Tech layoffs ‘uproot entire families,’ immigration lawyer explains

What layoffs in the tech industry accelerating toward the end of the year, some workers and their families have to struggle to find a job and stay in the US.

More than 150,000 people have lost jobs in the industry as companies seek to correct course after years of high growth and high costs. And a third of those job losses occurred in the past month, according to Layoffs, a Online site that tracks tech layoffs.

While job cuts typically mean workers ditching their resumes in search of new jobs, a growing number of workers whose job and life status are directly tied to their visa are in limbo.

“It’s not just one person’s life that’s at stake,” Tahmina Watson, founding attorney at Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “They are your spouses. They are the children who were probably born in the United States, children who came here when they were young and know nothing but the United States as home. It will be the uprooting of entire families. When someone is fired and has a visa, the complication is multiple. And it’s often invisible and too complicated for the fired person to explain.”

Headaches for H-1B Visa Holders

The obstacles surrounding the H-1B temporary work visa, a nonimmigrant visa that allows US employers to hire foreign workers for skilled jobs, have been especially pronounced. Those laid off workers with an H-1B have just 60 days to get a new job or risk deportation.

And with so many layoffs going on, Watson said workers are struggling to find that lifeline.

“When someone is working in the United States on a visa, they have to keep working; otherwise they would be in the United States illegally,” Watson said. “So anyone who is thinking about getting laid off soon should start thinking about it right away. What will your options be?

The program has served as a consistent pipeline for tech talent for years, with roughly 70% of H-1B visa holders working in IT-related jobs, according to federal statistics. amazon (AMZN) alone has filed more than 26,000 petitions to hire or rehire foreign workers on H-1B visas since 2009, while Microsoft (MSFT) has submitted more than 18,000 petitions in the same period, according to the Seattle Times.

But the mass layoffs, particularly those scheduled around the holidays, have put renewed pressure on Washington to review the limitations of US immigration policies around highly-skilled labor.

Watson argued that a 60-day grace period is simply too short, especially during an economic downturn when replacement jobs are harder to find. The layoffs also complicate the path for those already in line to obtain a green card or legal permanent residence in the US, as an existing green card application becomes invalid once the registered job is removed.

These challenges are compounded by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has struggled to clear a backlog of green card applications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration.

“Those delays are 10, 15 years,” Watson explained. “So the H-1B visa allows them to stay here while they are behind. So if those backlogs aren’t cleared and the job disappears, the green card application is in jeopardy as well.”

‘Utterly outrageous’ 60-day requirement

The frustrations have spilled over onto social media platforms, with laid-off workers openly offering themselves up for new jobs to maintain their legal US visa status.

a worker, who identified himself as a software engineerhe said on LinkedIn: “It seems unfair that if you cross the border illegally, you get indefinite time to be in the country (in most cases) and find a place for yourself, but entering legally gets the complete opposite treatment. Immigration reforms are necessary, at least the length of time off must be increased so that people have a fair chance of finding a job when they sign up for resumes.”

Another worker, who identified himself as a fired Twitter employee, appealed to those who were on the site, saying that he has only 60 days to find a new job. “I’m looking for a machine learning/software engineer position immediately,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

At least one tech executive has responded to the call for help.

Joshua Browder, CEO of artificial intelligence-based legal services startup DoNotPay, took to Twitter recently to say he was open to hiring H-1B visa holders at his firm.

“I was expecting a few people to reach out, but I literally got hundreds and hundreds of some of the most talented engineers and designers reaching out,” Browder told Yahoo Finance. “I was shocked at how many talented people were being laid off. I think a lot of these big companies are making a big mistake.”

Browder, who emigrated from the UK as a university student, said 25% of his 23 employees are in the US on skilled worker visas. Since then, it has received applications from former employees of Twitter and Stripe, among others, and has so far offered jobs starting in January to two workers.

The sudden increase in unemployed workers has proven to be a boon for his company, Browder said. He explained that it saved him “thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars” in recruiting fees to attract top talent.

“I’m sure a lot of these people would actually get jobs,” Browder said. “It’s just that the 60-day requirement is completely outrageous, especially in this climate. No one can make things happen that fast, but we can. So our goal is to do that. But most big employers don’t work that fast.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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