Unemployed workers who have not found new employment within 60 days may be required to leave the country in accordance with the terms of their visas. Industry estimates suggest that Indians account for about a third of the roughly 200,000 tech jobs lost in the United States in the last year, and the United States government reports that Indians made up about 75% of approved special visa holder petitions in 2021.
Abheer, an Indian engineering manager, was in the midst of a performance review cycle at Google when he was laid off, a victim of the company’s and the industry’s widespread layoffs. “Everything was fine,” said Abheer, 31, who requested anonymity. It’s completely unexpected; “I know a few people who actually got promoted in October and (then) they were laid off.”
Foreign workers like Abheer, who are in the United States on H-1B visas reserved for “high skilled” occupations, are having their lives turned upside down by the wave of tech layoffs at companies like Meta Platforms Inc, Google, and Amazon.
Unemployed workers who have not found new employment within 60 days may be required to leave the country in accordance with the terms of their visas.
Industry estimates suggest that Indians are responsible for about a third of the roughly 200,000 tech jobs lost in the United States in the last year, and the US government reports that Indians made up about 75% of approved special visa holder petitions in 2021. Thousands of Indian workers’ lives have been turned upside down as a direct result of this situation in recent months.
“It’s a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody,” Mandakinee Gupta, 39, originally from Assam in northeastern India and now residing in San Diego, California, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.
Gupta, who is currently a programme manager at Amazon, has described her experiences with multiple layoffs while on an H-1B visa as “absolutely harrowing.”
It was a “big deal” for her family to send her thousands of miles away to another country when she first came to the United States in 2013 to earn a Master of Science in business analysis and market research at Georgia State University.
In 2021, the most recent year for which data was available, US Citizenship and Immigration Services authorised roughly 407,000 H-1B visa petitions.
Khanderao Kand, founder of the Global Indian Technology Professionals Association (GITPRO), a worldwide networking group, said that many of the Indians who secured these jobs may have never been laid off before. The people who seek help, he said, are often in a state of panic because they have so little time to find a new job.
So they suffer psychological shock and wonder what on earth happened, he said. The shock alone causes many of them to lose a week or two. Kand said that there are other options that might allow them to stay in the country temporarily, but not allow them to work. These include applying for a student visa or a visa for spouses of H-1B holders.
One organisation that is trying to get the US government to give laid-off workers more time to find new work is the non-profit Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS).
It has been argued that the current deadline exposes migrant workers to the possibility of exploitation by unscrupulous employers who are aware of their workers’ vulnerable immigration status and take advantage of them by, for example, offering them lower pay or a less senior position than they would otherwise command.