Dec 6, 2022 - Economy

Tech layoffs push H-1B visa workers into limbo

illustration of a man holding a box with an arrow pointing at him

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Sweeping layoffs in tech are leaving thousands of people holding H-1B work visas stranded and scared.

Why it matters: In the event of a layoff, H-1B holders have 60 days to find new companies to sponsor their visas. If they can't, they can try switching to a different kind of work visa or look into non-work visas, such as a self-sponsored green card.

  • “Beyond that,” immigration attorney Farhana Nowrin tells BuzzFeed News, “leaving the country may be the best or only course of action.”

Context: The H-1B program is intended to help U.S. employers fill roles requiring "highly specialized knowledge," and holders need at least a bachelor’s degree as a minimum.

  • It's a program that U.S. tech firms have long relied on for talent.

State of play: More than 144,000 people in the tech industry have lost their jobs this year, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that's been keeping tabs.

  • November has been the most brutal month — with more than 200 companies laying off more than 51,000 people. 

Zoom in: While the actual number is unknown, some experts believe H-1B visa holders account for between 10%–30% of those who have lost their jobs.

  • Notably, Amazon and Meta have cut the most number of people year-to-date and they also happen to be among the top sponsors of H-1B petitions in 2021: roughly 17,000 and 4,400, respectively.

Zoom out: It’s already difficult to get an H-1B visa, and finding a job now during the holiday season and amid the tech sector’s contraction could prove difficult for many of these laid off workers.

  • For families that have set roots in the U.S. for years, the layoffs are even more devastating. 

What they're saying: "H-1B holders in the 60-day grace period need more time to find new jobs beyond the holidays, but time will run out for many in early January," Sophie Alcorn, CEO of Alcorn Immigration Law, tells Axios.

  • Workers in this situation may be forced to leave their homes for an indefinite period of time as certain U.S. Consulates or embassies around the world often have wait times of 3-plus years for new visa interviews, Alcorn adds.

One silver lining: For employers looking to hire, “this is an amazing opportunity to retain brilliant, experienced workers who will be grateful for a long time for the opportunity to stay in the country,” she previously told the Society for Human Resource Management.

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