'It's a nightmare': Indian workers receive brunt of US tech layoffs

The wave of tech layoffs in the U.S. is causing havoc for foreign workers on H-1B visas who must leave the country in 60 days if they are laid off. Indians received about 75% of approved special visa holder petitions in 2021.

Eric Risberg/AP
A Meta Portal Go is displayed during a preview of the Meta Store in Burlingame, California, on May 4, 2022. Companies including Meta Platforms Inc, Google, and Amazon are performing industry-wide cutbacks that are especially affecting workers on H-1B visas.

Indian engineering manager Abheer was in the middle of a performance review cycle when he was suddenly laid off from his job at Google – victim of a wave of industry-wide cutbacks.

“Everything was going fine,” said Abheer, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect his identity. “I know a few people who actually got promoted in October, and [then] they were laid off ... there’s no kind of foresight that this is coming.”

The wave of tech layoffs in the United States at companies including Meta Platforms Inc, Google, and Amazon are upending the lives of foreign workers like Abheer who are in the country on H-1B visas reserved for “high skilled” occupations.

Under the terms of their visas, workers who are laid off face the prospect of having to leave the country in 60 days unless they can find another job or manage to change their immigration status.

Indians represented about 75% of approved special visa holder petitions in 2021, according to the U.S. government, and industry estimates suggest they account for about a third of the roughly 200,000 tech jobs lost in the U.S. over the past year.

As a result, thousands of Indian workers have seen their lives turned upside down in recent months. “It’s a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody,” Mandakinee Gupta, who splits her time between San Diego and India and is from Assam in northeastern India, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Ms. Gupta, who currently works as a program manager at Amazon, said she has dealt with multiple layoffs in the past while on an H-1B visa, describing the experience as “absolutely harrowing.”

She first moved to the U.S. in 2013 to pursue a Master’s degree in business analysis and market research at Georgia State University and said it was a “big deal” for her family to send her thousands of miles away to another country.

Ticking clock

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved about 407,000 H-1B visa petitions in 2021, the last year for which a detailed data report was available.

For many of the Indians who secured them, the current wave of job cuts could be their first experience of being laid off since they arrived in the U.S. said Khanderao Kand, founder of the Global Indian Technology Professionals Association (GITPRO), a worldwide networking group.

He said people looking for help are often in a state of panic as they face a frantic search for a new job against a ticking clock.

“So they go through the emotional trauma, questioning what happened,” he said. “Many of them lose one or two weeks just in that shock.”

Other options, such as filing for a student visa or a visa for spouses of H-1B holders, might allow them to stay in the U.S. – at least temporarily – but would not give them the right to work, Mr. Kand said.

The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), a nonprofit, is among the groups lobbying the U.S. government to extend the grace period for laid-off employees beyond 60 days.

Some people say the current deadline puts migrant workers at risk of labor abuses by unscrupulous bosses aware of their precarious immigration status – for example, offering less money or a more junior role than a person might otherwise command.

“As an immigrant, we become extremely vulnerable because then, to be able to maintain our status, we almost take up anything that comes our way,” Ms. Gupta said. “There is room to be exploited.”

Though there are opportunities to land other jobs, the work might be in another field, offer lower pay, or require people to relocate. Ms. Gupta said she has bounced from places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Dallas, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa, during her time in the country.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former engineering director at Google who was recently laid off said there are also significant restrictions for people on L-1 visas.

Those permits are generally granted to people in managerial or executive roles or whose jobs require specialized knowledge.

In contrast to H-1B holders, who can seek a job with another company if they are laid off, people on L-1 visas represent intracompany transfers to the U.S. “L-1 visas are lot more restrictive because you’re confined to a very specific role, and you can only be in that box,” the former engineering director said.

“You might be missing out on promotions, benefits, on [compensation]. But you don’t really have an equal right to protest because then your visa is in a very risky situation.”

Lacking options

Even immigrants who have survived the recent wave of layoffs can be affected if their job status or salary is downgraded as part of corporate cost-cutting, labor specialists say.

For example, Google has said it is now pausing certain new labor certification applications, which can be part of immigrants’ green card applications.

People in the U.S. on H-1Bs can extend beyond an initial six-year time frame – three years plus a three-year extension – if a green card application has been filed, said Tahmina Watson, a Seattle-based immigration lawyer.

“It will depend on which part of the process is being paused,” Ms. Watson said. “Because these people who are at the cusp of their six years are really going to suffer.”

A Google spokesperson said the company decided to pause new applications in light of the tech industry’s staffing reductions and that the move would not affect current or future applications for other visa types.

A pay cut or demotion within the same company can be enough to jeopardize the status of foreign workers’ green card applications, advocates say.

“If companies are making salary adjustments ... then that’s something to be wary of,” said Abhishek Gutgutia, founder of Zeno, an online platform offering advice to immigrants.

“If you still have the job, but your salary’s reduced, you might now be running afoul of Department of Labor wage requirements, and that might affect your status.”

While H-1B workers receive competitive wages, they often face additional expenses that leave them little wiggle room during even short spells without work.

“A lot of the income that I or anyone creates as an immigrant from their job ... goes back into either paying back our parents because they had saved for [college] education or paying back the loans that we have taken,” Ms. Gupta said.

Such factors further compound the stress of the looming two-month deadline if they find themselves out of a job.

“It’s about what that 60 days actually entails both mentally, emotionally, and also financially,” she said. “Because each moment is literally like OK, we’re losing a day.”

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'It's a nightmare': Indian workers receive brunt of US tech layoffs
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today