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For Laid-Off Tech Workers On H-1B Visas, There Aren't Enough … – Forbes

With more than 42,000 tech workers losing their jobs this month, immigration lawyers and tech investors say that the majority of foreign nationals on visas could be forced to leave the country unless they figure out a backup plan.
The tech industry’s waves of layoffs reached a new crest in November as giants like Meta and Amazon made large-scale cuts for the first time since the start of the pandemic. In its wake, thousands of foreign nationals could soon be forced to leave the United States in an exodus of proportions unseen in years.
“I told myself I would find a new job by November, and that the 60-day grace period for my H-1B visa would be easy to handle,” wrote one employee on LinkedIn who was laid off from DocuSign in late September. “One month later and with no job offer in sight, I can’t help but feel discouraged . . . I wish I didn’t have to stare into the frightening possibility of selling everything I own, saying goodbye to everyone I know here, and leaving the country every single day, just because I got laid off.”
More than 42,000 tech employees have lost their jobs so far this month, well over double the amount of any other month in 2022, according to Layoffs.fyi. Two thirds of the cuts come from four companies alone: Meta, Amazon, Cisco and Twitter. Foreign nationals—who generally account for some 20% to 30% of workers at these companies, according to Kathy Khol, an immigration attorney at Fragomen—often have just 60 days to find a job to avoid being deported.
“In the past, the layoffs didn’t hit all at the same time,” says Khol, who has worked in the space since 2010. By her estimation, at least half of recently laid-off workers will not be able to find employment in time. While it was still “relatively easy” to secure a tech job within 60 days this past summer, when startups like Carvana and GoPuff laid off thousands of workers, the majority of visa holders laid off this month won’t have such luck, says Sophie Alcorn, who runs a Silicon Valley-focused immigration law firm.
Tech investors agree with that prediction. “The companies that used to hire the most H-1B visa holders—Microsoft, Amazon, Meta—are now announcing hiring freezes and layoffs,” says Kunal Lunawat, partner at Agya Ventures. “If you’ve been laid off, you almost have nowhere to go.”
“The fear and trauma for visa holders when the immigration system is set up this way is a tremendous strain on innovation and creativity.”
For now, Apple and Alphabet have not announced job cuts. Some companies are still hiring aggressively, in particular early-stage startups that are most insulated from the throes of the public market. But while new companies are still able to get off the ground, venture investor Manan Mehta says, the startup ecosystem doesn’t have enough job openings to handle the avalanche of job seekers let loose by Big Tech companies and other large stalwarts like Salesforce, Stripe and Lyft.
“You need mega funding rounds to even start to make up the difference and hire employees at that volume,” says Mehta, whose firm, Unshackled Ventures, invests in immigrant-founded startups. “But nothing has loosened up on the capital deployment side to create more jobs. The venture market is almost frozen right now.”
As the holiday season approaches, VC activity is likely to remain muted. Many investors are already looking toward January at the earliest for prospective new investments. And even at companies that are actively hiring, the holiday break means fewer work days for recruiters, rendering a chunk of the 60-day grace period into limbo. “The fear and trauma for visa holders when the immigration system is set up this way is a tremendous strain on innovation and creativity,” Alcorn says.
Huy Tu, a research scientist who was working on ethical AI at Instagram prior to being laid off by Meta, says he is casting a wide net for his next job because he has less than 90 days to get hired (Tu is on an OPT visa, which has different rules compared to H-1B visas). “I want to do something meaningful,” he tells Forbes. “Working on AI for social good was a privilege, and now I feel like I’ll have to settle a lot—maybe do something I do not ethically agree with—because of the job market.”
Some foreign nationals who were laid off over the summer told Forbes that their former employers such as Rivian and GoPuff offered ways to extend their 60-day window. At Atlanta-based security startup OneTrust, laid-off employees were given the option of receiving six weeks of severance pay or six weeks of unpaid leave. “Money is nice and all, but time is the most important,” said Jose Tovar, a software engineer who chose the latter option, which effectively gave him more than 100 days to find a new job. Tovar said he benefited from spending two weeks recuperating mentally from the upheaval before he commenced the job search that landed him a new position at local logistics software company SMC3.
This time around, thousands of employees do not appear to have the same luxury. At Meta, laid-off workers were left in the dark despite a promise from CEO Mark Zuckerberg to provide immigration support to visa holders, according to a report from Buzzfeed News. Tu tells Forbes that while he did speak to lawyers at Meta, they sometimes appeared to not be “fully equipped” to answer his immigration questions. For example, he says he received inconsistent answers about when his unemployment status began. Tu ultimately contacted the university from which he recently graduated in order to figure out his options.
Khol says the volume of layoffs this month has caused some companies to cut workers without providing sufficient support: “What employers could do right is make sure they have a good plan in place, like enough attorney support to provide one-on-one consultations [for visa holders]. I think there is an employer responsibility element that is necessary.”
“Money is nice and all, but time is the most important.”
Lawyers told Forbes that while many tech workers won’t be able to find new jobs within 60 days, creative maneuvers exist to extend their stay in the country, such as switching to a visitor visa, applying for an extraordinary ability green card or returning to school to obtain another degree. But while an H-1B visa can be directly transferred to a new employer, these backup measures could cost thousands of dollars and still may not provide a guarantee to stay in the country.
While opportunities at existing tech companies are dwindling, some foreign nationals may be able to stay in the U.S. by turning to entrepreneurship (though that path comes with its own hurdles because the United States has no official startup visa for entrepreneurs). Lunawat says his firm is reaching out to some recently laid-off employees to gauge their interest in starting companies.
On LinkedIn, after Vidhi Agrawal posted a link to compile a list of laid-off visa holders into a private database to send to recruiters, 530 people submitted their resumes. Agrawal, an employee at software firm Databricks who is managing the database in her spare time, says multiple founders of nascent startups have asked her for access to the database in hopes of finding cofounders within the newly expanded talent pool.
“The first thing [foreign tech workers] did by leaving their home country was an entrepreneurial act,” Mehta says. “So I would encourage them to ask themselves: Do I want to take the next entrepreneurial step and start a company? If they do, there are plenty of us who will fund it.”

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