By industry estimates, the American high-tech sector has laid off or not replaced more than 2,50,000 positions since the beginning of 2022. Every major employer is guilty of engaging in staff cuts: Amazon (18,000); Google (12,000); Microsoft (10,000); Dell (6,600); IBM (3,900), and SAP (3,000) are the big names. While not all positions let go are tech-related, a substantial proportion is.
Tech layoffs disproportionately impact Indian H-1B visa holders in two ways. For years, Indian techies have been winning more than 70 per cent of all H-1B visas issued, so statistically, there are more Indians facing job cuts. Federal law requires all laid-off H-1Bs to obtain a new job within 60 days, a restriction that Green Card holders and US citizens do not face.
It is the 60-day rule that causes significant anxiety to H-1B visa holders. The period is short, even when tech hiring is booming. It takes time to dust off old resumes, network with people when connections have become rusty, or approach friends and family for word-of-mouth opportunities for fear of a social stigma backlash. But when everyone else is laying off or has stopped hiring, the 60-day rule feels even more compressed.
An inability to find gainful employment within this period means the H-1B employee must leave the US or risk overstaying. Visa overstays are not looked at kindly by the US government. After 180 days of unlawful presence, a visa holder cannot return to the US for three years from when they finally depart. Overstaying by a year will extend the ban on returning to the US for 10 years.
A little flexibility on the laid-off employee’s part goes a long way in today’s world. While Big Tech is lowering headcount, many industrial and agricultural companies in the midwest are hiring tech talent. Many are setting up remote offices in desirable clusters where techies live, such as the Bay Area or Austin, Texas. A skilled H-1B willing to relocate temporarily to small midwestern cities, such as Moline, Illinois, could cut out the mad rush at the satellite locations and obtain a job within 60 days. The entire family does not have to move; just the employee has to.
It is not just the industrial-belt manufacturing companies that have lost out on attracting tech talent. Business Insider notes that many non-tech cities, such as Chicago, have also been at the receiving end as Big Tech has splurged lavish benefits on techies over the years, making employee relocation to the windy city very unattractive. Non-profit organisations like P33 have lofty goals to transform Chicago into a tier-one technology and innovation hub and promote inclusive economic growth. P33 recently launched a job board to connect employers with laid-off H-1B employees.
Long-term H-1B visa holders who have accumulated savings could consider alternative visa pathways to a Green Card, such as the EB-5 investor visa. The minimum investment for a Targeted Employment Area class visa is about $800,000. While the entity responsible for the project may not return the funds, placing hard-earned savings at risk, investors (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) could obtain their Green Cards if their applications are approved. EB-5 beneficiaries can adjust their status to a conditional permanent resident, meaning they don’t have to suffer any upheaval, such as relocating or selling their primary home.
Laid-off H-1Bs could also pursue or return to graduate school and ride out the unfriendly employment market by switching to an F-1 visa.
The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, Bedford, TX