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What if you lose your job and only have 60 days to find another job? This is the situation in which thousands of highly skilled immigrant workers suddenly find themselves.
About 50,000 tech workers lost their jobs last month as Meta, Amazon, Twitter and others laid off some of their workforces.
And much of that workforce is made up of immigrants. A 2018 report found that more than 70% of tech workers in Silicon Valley were born in another country.
Losing a job is always devastating, but for many immigrant workers on H-1B (skilled worker) visas, their ability to stay in the U.S. suddenly works with a relentless tick.
When the clock ticks down
Aditya Tawde knows exactly what it is.
In 2020, Tawde was working for a technology company near Boston. Things were going well. He had liked the job and had just been promoted. But COVID and the lockdown hit his employer hard.
The company called a virtual meeting of all staff (offices were closed) and Tawde felt bad. Almost immediately, the CEO confirmed his worst fears.
“He said they decided to let people go,” Tawde said. “And all the people who were released will receive an email within the next hour.”
Tawde didn’t move from his computer. He barely blinked. He just sat there checking his email over and over and telling himself he was going to be fine.
He had just been promoted and was working in data analytics, which was highly regarded by the company.
Fifteen minutes passed, then 20. Nothing. But then, suddenly, there it was. E-mail.
“I don’t remember the subject line,” Tawde says, “but I do remember it saying, ‘If you’re getting this email, you’re one of the 1,000 workers being laid off, and these are the next steps you need to take.’
Tawde was shocked. “I had a very shaky voice when I told my wife,” he recalls. “Then I went to the bathroom and cried.”
Tawde and his wife are from India, but they have been living in the United States for five years. Their lives were spent in the United States
He was in the US on an H-1B visa. Tech companies often use these visas to find workers they say they can’t find in the United States.
The H-1B visa binds the worker to a specific job. If the employee loses this job, the countdown clock starts.
It happens. I have two months.
Tawde was sitting in the bathroom collecting himself. He took some time to get over his feelings and immediately began to plan.
“It’s happening. I have two months,” I said.
People who lose their jobs on an H-1B visa have 60 days to close a new job or leave the country.
Right now, it’s likely that thousands of H-1B visa holders are facing the same ticking clock.
Many have children in school, mortgage payments and have been in the US for years.
Their dismissal is surprising
Joshua Browder is the CEO of AI-powered legal services startup Do Not Pay (or, as they call it, “the world’s first robot lawyer”). Browder says that as someone who runs a company, finding talent has always been difficult.
Browder has always had to pay recruiters to find people, and even then lost out to bigger, wealthier companies.
So after hearing the news of Meta’s 11,000 layoffs, Browder posted a quick note on Twitter.
If you have recently been laid off and have an H1B visa, we would like to speak with you @donotpay.
25% of our team is non-US citizens and we can move quickly.
In our 7-year company history, we have never laid off anyone and do not plan to
— Joshua Browder (@jbrowder1) November 22, 2022
Browder was hoping to pick up the few really high-profile people he let go. He had several open positions and was excited to help a fellow expat.
“We’ve had hundreds of people reach out to us,” says Browder. “They’re top designers, engineers with amazing portfolios, and it’s very surprising that they’ve been fired.”
Hiring slows down during the holiday season
Browder has already made one offer and has sent multiple applications to other companies the recruiter knows.
Browder is an immigrant himself, and he says H-1B workers are in a really tough spot right now: There’s a flood of tech workers in the market and a lot of hiring freezes.
It’s also the holiday season when many places stop hiring or at least slow things down.
Also, many locations will hire a US citizen over an H-1B worker. It’s cheaper and there’s less paperwork.
What if one question decides my future?
Aditya Tawde himself was up against a lot when he was fired in 2020. He began contacting everyone he could think of: former colleagues, mentors, and old classmates.
Every application, every interview, every answer to every question felt terrible.
“I thought a lot because I was like, ‘What if I get one question wrong and it decides my future in the United States?'” she recalls.
Just six weeks after being fired, Tawde had given 35 interviews, sometimes five a day.
He says it’s a blur. He constantly pushed, updated the table, analyzed the questions. And then one day, out of the blue, it happened.
“I got an email saying I was selected.”
Tawde says it’s surreal. “I was in tears from laughing,” she recalls. “Just as one email changed my life, then this one changed my trajectory again with a new job.”
Smooth seas never make good sailors
Currently, Tawde colleagues are doing everything they can to help H-1B holders: reviewing applications, posting available jobs, making contacts.
He says he always tells someone in 2020 what someone told him, someone who has been in his exact position and managed to get a job.
“There was one thing he said that has always stayed with me: ‘Smooth seas never make good sailors.’ After going through this experience, you will come out stronger. If something is difficult in your life, you can do it. to manage it.'”
Tawde tells people to keep pushing. She now says it’s what she loves on LinkedIn. He tells them that he too was on this brutal, ticking clock, and that he only got 15 days off work.