Technical cutbacks force visa holders to look for work to stay in the US

After years of seemingly limitless expansion, the US tech industry has hit a wall. Companies are in cash-holding mode, leading to thousands of job cuts per month and a spike in layoffs in November.

While the sudden loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the latest wave of layoffs has a major impact on skilled workers living in the U.S. on temporary visas and at risk of being sent home. they cannot secure a new job in a short time.

Tech companies are among the employers receiving the most approvals for H-1B visas, which are issued to people in specialty occupations that often require a college degree and additional education. For years, Silicon Valley has relied on government-issued temporary visas to hire thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotechnology and computer science. That’s a big reason tech companies are advocating for immigrant rights.

Workers on temporary visas often have 60 to 90 days to find a new gig to avoid deportation.

“It’s this amazing talent pool that the U.S. is lucky to attract, and they always live on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration attorney based in Mountain View, Calif., who specializes in securing visas for technology workers. “A lot of them are facing this 60-day grace period. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the US. everybody.”

An already dire situation took a turn for the worse in November Meta, AmazonTwitter, Lyft, Salesforce, HP and DoorDash announced significant reductions in the workforce. More than 50,000 tech workers were laid off in November, according to data compiled by

Amazon has given laid-off employees 60 days to look for new positions within the company, after which they will be offered severance, according to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job. The person spoke to CNBC on condition of anonymity.

In fiscal year 2021, Amazon had the most approved petitions for H-1B visas with 6,182, according to a National Endowment for American Policy study of US immigration data. Google, IBM and Microsoft it is also close to the first step of the list.

The former AWS employee had been in the country for two years on student and work visas. He said he was unexpectedly fired in early November, a few months after joining the company as an engineer. Although Amazon told him internally he had 60 days to find another position, the person said his manager advised him to apply for a job elsewhere because of the company’s hiring backlog. Amazon said in November that it had stopped hiring for its corporate workforce.

An Amazon spokeswoman would not comment beyond saying that CEO Andy Jassy told those who were laid off last month that the company would help them find new roles.

Companies generally do not specify what percentage of people who are laid off are on visas. A LinkedIn search for “Fired off H1B” reveals a flood of posts from workers who recently lost their jobs and expressed concern about the 60-day unemployment window. Visa holders share resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind and WhatsApp groups, a former AWS employee said.

It was already a rough few years for foreign workers in the US before rising inflation and recession worries led to the latest round of job cuts.

The Trump administration’s hostile stance on immigration has put the H-1B program at risk. In 2020, as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending work visas, including those with H-1B status, claiming that they hurt Americans’ employment prospects. The move drew sharp rebuke from tech executives who say the program serves as a pipeline for talent and strengthens American companies. President Joe Biden allowed the Trump-era ban to expire last year.

Whatever relief a Biden presidency provides is of limited value to those currently unemployed. An engineer recently laid off by a gene sequencing technology company Illumina said he hoped his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He is here on a different visa, known as Voluntary Practical Training (OPT), which allows science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates to work in the United States for up to three years after graduation.

Not only does the former Illumina employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have to find a new job within 90 days of the layoff date, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any company that hires him must be willing to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the related fees. She is considering going back to school to extend her stay in the US, but is worried about taking out student loans.

Illumina said in November it was cutting about 5% of its global workforce. A company spokesperson told CNBC that less than 10% of the affected workers were here on H-1B or related visas.

“We engage with each employee individually to ensure they understand the impact on their employment eligibility and choices to remain in the United States,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “We strive to review each situation to provide the utmost care to those affected and to ensure compliance with immigration laws.”

The former employee said he dreams of working at Illumina, establishing roots in the United States and buying a home. Now, he said, he’s just trying to find a way to stay in the country without going into debt. In just a few months, he said, it was “like night and day.”

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