L.A. — Large numbers of immigrants are in a state of panic due to the massive wave of layoffs sweeping the United States technology sector. They must find work quickly or risk losing their legal status in the country.

These employees, the vast majority of whom are Indian nationals, are here temporarily on work visas that are intended to help U.S. businesses take advantage of the highly educated and skilled labour force that is available in India. The majority of the population has been here for many years, even decades.

However, their visas will expire in 60 days, and they cannot re-enter the country until then. Without a new employer who is willing to deal with the complexities of immigration laws and pay the associated fees, they will have to leave the country.

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Empty offices in a building on a Google campus in Sunnyvale, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

As the situation escalates, families in Silicon Valley and beyond are being put in jeopardy, and lawmakers’ inability to reform the immigration system is on full display, even on issues on which there is consensus.

Indu Bhushan, 36, expressed his dismay at the news, saying, “It’s upsetting because things were going good and soon my wife will be delivering a baby.” His position as a network engineer at PayPal was eliminated this month.

Bhushan, a resident of the Boston suburb of Methuen, Massachusetts, said he has been looking for new work but has met with stiff competition and the fact that some companies are unwilling to sponsor his visa, an H-1B.

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As Bhushan put it, “everyone is on the hunt” because of the widespread layoffs across the United States. After finishing his master’s degree at the New York Institute of Technology in 2013, he decided to stay in the United States.

“Returning to India just because my H-1B is not being supported is the worst way to leave a country which is known as the opportunity place,” he continued.

Some Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have taken notice of the high-tech visa mess and are now trying to persuade DHS and USCIS to allow high-tech visa holders to remain in the country for an additional 60 days after losing their jobs.

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USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou wrote to California Representatives Anna G. Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren on January 25 explaining that extending the grace period would necessitate a regulatory change that would “take considerable time to complete.” As an alternative, the USCIS recommends that terminated high-tech visa holders apply for a different visa, such as a tourist visa, which would delay their deportation but would not allow them to work.

Rep. Eshoo, whose district includes much of Silicon Valley, expressed frustration in an interview that the letter did not address her concerns about the plight of her constituents who lost their jobs and were working on high-tech visas. She called a meeting of senior USCIS officials in her office not long ago, and they all echoed Jaddou’s recommendations. “This is urgent,” Eshoo emphasised. Persons holding an H-1B visa “don’t have the luxury of time.”

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