60 Days to Deportation: The Limited Time Laid Off H-1B Workers are Given to Find Alternate Employment Takes a Toll
- During the pandemic, many of the top tech companies lobbied to raise the annual cap of 85,000 on H-1B visas. Ironically, those very companies are now laying them off.
In January, Business Insider reported that nearly 200,000 IT workers had been laid off since November. Between 30-40% of them are Indian professionals. According to the Migration Policy Report, Indian nationals account for 74 percent of H-1B temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers. They have been disproportionately laid off in the recent tech overhaul.
Behind these statistical headlines, however, there are real people, many of them well-qualified young people who came to this country at great expense and with great expectations. Suddenly, their lives have been rendered uncertain.
On February 9, 2023, Saanvi*, an H-1B visa holder from Indore, was laid off at a Palo Alto-based startup company where she had worked for the last three years. As her visa stipulates, if she does not find a job within 60 days, she will be forced to return to India.
Since 2017, Saanvi has been working in the tech industry after earning a master’s in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon. She worked hard, paid off her hefty student debt, and was a valued employee. Overnight, she was laid off without any severance and lost her security and independence.
In mid-February, 29-year-old Suman* from Lucknow was laid off after two years at a tech startup in the Bay Area. In 2019, she came to earn a master’s degree at the University of Southern California (USC), after a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and three years of work experience as a software developer at Cognizant in Chennai. Like Saanvi, she had to borrow massive amounts of money to support her private university education in the United States.
The 60-Day Myth
Saanvi’s visa expires on March 11th. “I am just interviewing left and right and trying my best to get a job,” she says. She did eight interviews in February and connected with many more people on LinkedIn but has had no job offer. “The market is dead right now, and I am tired of rejects.”
“Even if I change companies, it will take a long time to process H-1B, so I need an offer two weeks before my visa expires,” Saanvi says.
The 60-day period is a myth. A recruiter (who wanted to remain anonymous) at a reputable consultant company that helps tech companies hire H-1B workers says these workers have practically 45 days, not 60 days, after their termination date.
After hiring approval, a U.S. company files Labor Condition Application (LCA) on behalf of a foreign H-1B worker for a non-immigrant work visa. The employer takes five days to submit the LCA and then waits for a week. So, it takes a minimum of 10-12 days to transfer H-1B.
Rishi Oza, an attorney at the Brown Immigration Law office in Durham, North Carolina, agrees that the deadline for H-1B workers to find alternative employment is less than 45 days. “There should be at least 80 days for a realistic job transfer.”
Kaushik Pendurthi, cofounder and the CTO of Jobox, a startup company in the Bay Area, explains that it takes a lot of work to get the paperwork processed by the hiring company in 60 days. The entire process of the interview takes a couple of weeks, and then the transfer of the H-1B from the previous company to the new one needs to occur.
Suman, who has had no severance pay, and minimal savings, has applied to 40-45 companies over two weeks. She describes the 60-day limit as “too much all at once.” She remembers that after she graduated from USC in 2021 when there was robust tech hiring during the pandemic, it took her around three months to find a job. That’s why the 60-day limit is impractical and should be increased to at least 3 to 4 months.
Right now, most companies have a hiring freeze. In addition, some companies want to avoid going through the extra effort and money required to hire H-1B. Suman says some companies prefer to hire U.S. citizens to avoid going through immigration and added costs.
LinkedIn’s latest data shows that hiring decreased by 6.5% in February compared to January. It is the most significant month-to-month decrease seen since April 2020. Year-over-year hiring has declined for ten consecutive months, according to LinkedIn’s Hiring Rate (LHR). The industries seeing the most significant decline include manufacturing and tech. LinkedIn’s Principal Economist Guy Berger said workers’ confidence in finding and holding jobs fell to its lowest since 2021.
Saanvi says her job loss came as a shock. She survived a big layoff of nearly two-thirds of her company in November 2022. Even in January, she was assured that her job was secure only to be let go a month later. Even after three years of being on the job, she received no severance package.
Besides, once she leaves the country, Saanvi will lose her H-1B status and must find a U.S. employer to sponsor her visa from India. Even applying for an MBA will not solve her immediate visa situation. She says, “I would have to return to India either way.”
Pendurthi says “H-1B visa holders are on a timer. They cannot quit their job or choose what they want to do.”
Gopi Devalcheruvu, founder and CEO of Karya Solutions, says during Covid, many H-1B workers joined jobs with excellent incentives and have bought homes. Layoffs have been devastating for them. He says the local business community and Indian networks should provide orientation classes for H-1B workers on managing job loss.
During the pandemic, many of the top tech companies lobbied to raise the annual cap of 85,000 on these visas. They argued that restricting the flow of highly skilled tech employees to the U.S. from countries like India and China diminished their competitiveness in the world market. Ironically, those very companies that lobbied Congress in 2022 for more are now laying off H-1B workers.
Pendurthi explains, “companies are replacing their H-1B workers with remote workers in different countries. That costs much less than hiring H-1B workers.” His own company has experienced a significant workforce reduction. He says raising capital, growing users, and raising cash flows in this challenging market are hard. “We have been forced to go offshore,” he says. With the growing interest rates and less availability of capital, companies are playing safe by shedding employees.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says the mass layoff of the companies is a “copycat behavior,” the result of “social contagion.” When a few firms fire staff, others may follow suit, and boards ask companies why they are not doing layoffs. He says that big firms like Meta have a lot of money. Sadly, it is the imitative capitalist economy where the companies worry about their shares losing value, driving the shareholders away. Since last year, the shares of Salesforce have gone down more than half. The company announced 10% layoffs in January; Salesforce shares have gone northward.
Dead End Universities
American universities have invested heavily in recruiting students, especially in science and technology, in the last few years. For example, New York University (NYU) reports 21,081 international students out of 28,772 (fall 2021). Public universities like the University of California system heavily rely on international students who pay significantly higher tuition. Indian families sell off properties, take high-interest loans, and make extreme sacrifices to send their children for professional degrees in the U.S. Pendurthi says, “There is no systemic support for these students to enter the job market, and education without a U.S. job does not make sense financially.”
(Names of H-1B respondents who spoke to the writers have been changed for privacy reasons.)
Annapurna Devi Pandey teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and was a postdoctoral fellow in social anthropology at Cambridge University, U.K. Her current research interests include diaspora studies, South Asian religions, and immigrant women’s identity-making in the diaspora in California. In 2017-18 she received a Fulbright scholarship for fieldwork in India. Dr. Pandey is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Her 2018 award-winning documentary “Road to Zuni,” dealt with the importance of oral traditions among Native Americans.
Urvi Vyas is a recent graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a passion for giving a voice to the South Asian diaspora in this country.
H 1 B visa has never been a ticekt to green card and permanant citizenship of the USA. It was created by successful lobbying by the Tech Industry and now the demand has bottomed out, those who got some or many years should consider themselves lucky. I came to USA on family migration preference 4 green card after wait for 11 years and became citizen. Job market realities and inflexible immigration law that has not changed the country quotas since 1986 are not likely to change any time soon.