How Mass Layoffs Have Worsened The Woes Of H-1B Visa Holders 

Mass layoffs at Tech companies: With a worsening job market all around, recently laid off H-1B visa holders are frantically searching for new options that will let them stay back in the US.  
Mass layoffs at Tech companies and H-1B visa holders
Mass layoffs at Tech companies and H-1B visa holders

Mass layoffs have been garnering a lot of headlines in the tech sector for the past two months. On one hand, it is a reflection of the wider cost cutting measures taken by major technology companies in the United States (US). The recent drop in their profitability is evident from the fact that the tech-heavy Nasdaq index has dropped nearly 30 per cent so far this year, after having a bull run the past two years.  

On the other hand, the layoffs pave the way for a large crisis as most of the laid off employees in the US are H-1B visa holders. These visas grant the holders a non-immigrant status while allowing them to work in US companies. Many Indians working in the US, particularly in the tech sector, are H-1B holders.  

The companies, in their pursuit of decreasing expenses, do not always take into account the humanitarian side of sacking employees. Many of the H-1B visa holders who have been laid off would now be forced to leave the US in large numbers. With the end-of-year holiday season around the corner, H-1B visa holders who were laid off recently are running from pillar to post, searching for options that will let them stay back in the US. To understand the options they have at their disposal, it is also important to know the precarity that comes with the H-1B visa in the first place.  

How H-1B Works 

Every year, many USA-based employers seek highly skilled foreign professionals for the pool of H-1B visa numbers. However, with the rising demand of this visa in recent years, the cap reportedly gets filled even before the year ends. According to American Immigration Council, “H-1B is a temporary (non-immigrant) visa category that allows employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in ‘specialty occupations’ that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent.”  

Usually, the initial duration of an H-1B visa is three years. However, this can be extended for a maximum of six years. As per the Council, jobs in fields of mathematics, engineering, medical sciences, technology and so on, typically qualify for an H-1B visa classification. 

Once someone is laid off by the employer who provided them an H-1B, they have 60 days within which they have to find a new employer who will renew their H-1B. Failing this, the laid off employee has no option but to return to their home country.  

The Present Crisis 

So far, over 1 lakh employees have been affected by these tech layoffs across 800+ companies, according to Debarghya Das, founding team member at Glean, a Bay Area based unicorn startup, recently received a lot of attention after he tweeted of an incoming 'brutally cold tech winter'. In a follow-up tweet he had also highlighted the adverse impact that it would have on H-1B visa holders.  

He wrote, “Tech layoffs affect immigrants the most! 5–15% of the 100k+ layoffs are H-1B holders. In 60 days (30-45 in practice), they must find a new job or be deported from the US. Families who've been here 10+yrs are told that we don't need you anymore. Leave.” 

Number of H-1B recipients (including their family members) who were admitted by fiscal year Outlook Business

Bringing more clarity into what he termed as cold tech winter, Das tells Outlook Business, “Around 70-80k layoffs are in the US alone. Finding a new job in this market, especially at this time of the year, is not easy. The golden decade 2012-22 of infinite perks, fat salaries and little work is coming to a close. The ‘surplus elite’ is facing pressure. More layoffs in 2023 are imminent.”

While being laid off naturally makes one worried about their financial stability, the H-1B visa holders have more things to worry about. One such affected person says, on condition of anonymity, that it's not about money. They explain, “Our lives have changed overnight. It is about the visa; I am one of those H-1B visa holders who now has just 60 days to find a new job. Sadly, I was also thinking of getting married around New Year’s but this doesn’t seem likely now.”  

The upcoming holiday season in the US makes the situation all the more difficult for people like them. Also, the 60-day period that they mentioned effectively becomes 30-45 days when one looks into all the technicalities. Robert Webber, US Immigration Attorney, recently addressed the confusion regarding the grace period available to a laid off H-1B visa holder in one of his LinkedIn posts. According to him, it is safest to assume that the grace period begins the day one is officially informed about the layoff and not one's last day of employment.  

Within such a short period, and with a worsening job market all around, it is not possible for many of the H-1B holders to find a new job. This is why many are exploring the less-known options that will let them stay back until at least suitable job opportunities come up. 

Alternative Options 

Tanvi Dubey, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, says that filing an I-539 application is also an option to change the status from H-1B to B-2. She adds, “It is used by people currently in the United States in a non-immigrant status to change the classification for their status and/or extend their stay with their current status. This may be one of the options to get extension to transition out of the US but it will only be for 6 more months.”   

Another option to extend one's timeline to is to get an H4 visa. This is only issued to dependents of H-1B visa holders. If one is a legally recognised spouse of a valid H-1B holder, they can apply for this. The processing time for this can take anywhere between 2 and 12 months. However, the advantage of H4 is that one can work part-time or full-time while on this visa.  

Dependents of F1 student visa holder have the option to apply for the F2 visa. The major drawback of the F2 is that it won't allow the holder to work or study in the US. The uncertainty surrounding H-1B visa has also led people to explore some difficult and less-known options like the EB-5 Visa.  

Abhinav Lohia, Director, Global Business Development, Golden Gate Global explains, “For a family with children, these layoffs could mean loss of a school year in addition to losing a paycheck. The uncertainty surrounding H1B Visa has led many to explore other visa categories such as EB-5 Visa to live and work in the United States. EB-5 Visa is a direct pathway to U.S. Permanent Residence or a Green Card. It requires an investment of $800,000 which is locked in for a period of at -least 5 years.”  However, this is an expensive work-around and many of the recently laid off employees cannot afford to take this route. 

But some are even considering the option of moving back to India. On this Das says, “Moving back to India is a big decision, but also one many are considering since the market seems to at this moment still be less affected. I personally don't think it's likely to stay that way.” 

It is true that the job market is unlikely to get better any time soon. Hence, finding a new job within 60 days, especially with the holiday season around, is difficult for most of the recently laid off folks. Although many would attempt some of the above-mentioned visa extension methods, success will be rare to come by provided the long processing times for these visas.  

As the threat of a cold tech winter looms larger with every new layoff, a reverse-exodus of sorts seems to be in the making. As unfortunate as it is, many H-1B holders will be forced to return.  

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