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Technical layoffs leave visa holders scrambling for jobs to remain in the United States

After years of seemingly limitless expansion, the US tech industry has hit a wall. Businesses are in cash-conservation mode, leading to thousands of layoffs a month and a wave of layoffs in November.

While the sudden loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the latest wave of cuts has a major impact on skilled workers who live in the US on temporary visas and are at risk of being sent home if they cannot secure a new job in a short time.

Technology companies are among the employers with the most approvals for H-1B visas, which are given to people in specialty occupations that often require college education and additional training. Silicon Valley has for years relied on government-issued temporary visas to hire thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotechnology and computer science. That̵[ads1]7;s a big reason tech companies have been outspoken in their defense of immigrants’ rights.

Workers on temporary visas often have 60 to 90 days to find a new gig so they can avoid deportation.

“There’s this amazing pool of talent that the U.S. is fortunate to attract, and they’re always living on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration attorney based in Mountain View, Calif., who specializes in securing visas for tech workers. “A lot of them are up against this 60-day deadline. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the United States. So it’s a stressful time for everybody. “

The already gloomy situation worsened in November, then Meta, AmazonTwitter, Lyft, Salesforce, HP and DoorDash announced significant cuts to the workforce. More than 50,000 tech workers were let go from their jobs in November, according to data compiled by the website

Amazon gave laid-off employees 60 days to search for a new role with the company, after which they were offered severance pay, according to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job. The person spoke to CNBC on condition of anonymity.

In fiscal year 2021, Amazon had the most approved H-1B visa petitions, with 6,182, according to a National Foundation for American Policy review of U.S. immigration data. Google, IBM and Microsoft also ranked near the top of the list.

The former AWS employee has been in the country for two years on a student and work visa. He said he was unexpectedly laid off in early November, just months after joining the company as an engineer. Despite Amazon informing him he had 60 days to find another position internally, the person said his manager advised him to look for jobs elsewhere because of the company’s hiring pullback. Amazon said in November it was halting hiring for the company’s workforce.

An Amazon spokesperson did not comment beyond what CEO Andy Jassy said last month, when he told those affected by the layoffs that the company would help them find new roles.

Companies usually do not specify what percentage of those laid off have visas. A search for “layoffs H1B” on LinkedIn shows a stream of posts from workers who have recently lost their jobs expressing concern about the 60-day unemployment window. Visa holders have shared resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind and in WhatsApp groups, the former AWS employee said.

It had already been a hectic few years for foreign workers in the US well before rising inflation and fears of a recession triggered the latest round of job cuts.

The Trump administration’s hostile stance on immigration put the H-1B program at risk. As president in 2020, Donald Trump signed an order to suspend work visas, including those with H-1B status, claiming they hurt the employment prospects of Americans. The move drew a strong rebuke from tech executives, who said the program serves as a pipeline for talented individuals and strengthens American companies. President Joe Biden let the Trump-era ban expire last year.

Whatever relief the Biden presidency provided is of limited value to those now unemployed. An engineer who was recently laid off by the gene sequencing technology company Illumina said he hoped his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He is here on another visa, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates to work in the United States for up to three years after graduation.

The former Illumina employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, not only must find a new job within 90 days of the layoff date, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any company that hires him must be willing to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the associated fees. He is considering going back to school to extend his stay in the US, but he is anxious about taking on student loans.

Illumina said in November that it was cutting about 5% of its global workforce. A company spokesperson told CNBC that less than 10% of the affected employees were here on H-1B or related visas.

“We are reaching out to each employee individually so they understand the impact on their employment eligibility and ability to remain in the United States,” the spokesperson said by email. “We work to review each and every situation to ensure good care for those affected, and to ensure compliance with immigration laws.”

Ex-employees said he had dreams of working for Illumina, planting roots in the United States and buying a house. Now, he said, he’s just trying to find a way to stay in the country without going deeply into debt. In just a few months, it’s “like a night and day difference,” he said.

SEE: Technical redundancies double from October to November

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