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Find a new job in 60 days: tech layoffs put immigrant workers on a ticking clock

Tech workers face widespread layoffs, a hardship notably for  immigrants relying on tech companies for work visas.
Sukanya Sitthikongsak
Getty Images
Tech workers face widespread layoffs, a hardship notably for immigrants relying on tech companies for work visas.

What if you lost your job and had just 60 days to find another one? That is the situation thousands of highly skilled immigrant workers have suddenly found themselves in.

About 50,000 tech workers lost their jobs last month as Meta, Amazon, Twitter and others laid off parts of their workforce.

And a lot of that workforce is made up of immigrants. A 2018 report found more than 70% of tech workers in Silicon Valley were born in another country.

Losing a job is always devastating, but for many immigrant workers on H-1B (skilled worker) visas, their ability to stay in the U.S. is suddenly on an unforgiving ticking clock.

When the clock ticks down

Aditya Tawde knows exactly what this feels like.

Back in 2020, Tawde was working at a tech company near Boston. Things were going well. He liked the work and had just been promoted. But COVID and lockdown hit his employer hard.

The company called a virtual all-staff meeting (offices were closed) and Tawde had a bad feeling. Almost immediately the CEO confirmed his worst fears.

"He said they were making the decision to let people go," Tawde recalls. "And all the people who were being let go would get an email within the next hour."

Tawde didn't move from him computer. He barely blinked. He just sat there refreshing his email over and over again, telling himself he'd be okay.

He'd just gotten promoted and he worked in data analytics, which was highly valued by the company.

Fifteen minutes went by, then 20. Nothing. But then, all of the sudden, there it was. The email.

A ticking clock

"I don't remember the subject line," says Tawde, "but I remember it started out saying, 'If you're getting this email, that means you're one of the 1,000 employees who are being let go and these are the next steps you need to take."

Tawde was in shock. "I had a very shaky voice when I told this to my wife," he recalls. "I then went to the bathroom and I cried."

Tawde and his wife are from India, but they'd been in the U.S. for five years. Their life was in the U.S.

He is in the US was on an H-1B visa. Tech companies use these visas a lot to find workers they say they cannot find in the US.

The H-1B visa ties a worker to a particular job. If a worker loses that job, a countdown clock starts.

This is happening. I have two months.

Tawde sat in the bathroom collecting himself. He took some time to get his emotions out and then immediately started making a plan.

"I was like, 'This is happening. I have two months.'"

People who lose their job on an H-1B visa have 60 days to lock down a new job or they have to leave the country.

Right now it's likely that thousands of H-1B visa holders are facing this same ticking clock.

Many have children in school, mortgage payments, and have been in the US for years.

It's surprising they were laid off

Joshua Browder is the CEO of Do Not Pay, an AI-based legal services start up (or as they call it, "the world's first robot lawyer"). Browder says as someone running a company, it's always been a struggle to find talent.

Browder has always had to pay recruiters to find people and even then would often lose out to larger, richer companies.

So after he heard the news about Meta's 11,000 layoffs, Browder sent out a quick note on Twitter.

Browder hoped to get a few really top people who had been let go. He had a few open positions and was excited to help out a fellow immigrant.

"We've had hundreds of people reach out," says Browder. "They are some of the best designers, engineers with amazing portfolios and it's very surprising that they were laid off."

Hiring slows during the holiday season

Browder has made an offer already and has passed on many applications to other companies he knows that are hiring.

Browder is an immigrant himself and says H-1B workers are in a really tough spot right now: There is a flood of tech workers on the market and a lot of hiring freezes.

It is also the holiday season, when many places stop hiring or at least slow things down.

Also, many places will hire a US citizen over an H-1B worker. It's cheaper and there's less paperwork.

What if one question decides my future?

Aditya Tawde was up against a lot of this himself when he was laid off back in 2020. He started reaching out to everyone he could think of: former colleagues, mentors and old classmates.

Every application, ever interview, every answer to every question felt dire.

"There was a lot of overthinking," he recalls, "because I was like, 'What if I answer one question incorrectly and that is what decides my future in the States?"

Just six weeks after he had been laid off, Tawde had done 35 interviews, sometimes five in a day.

He says it was a blur. He kept pushing, updating the spreadsheet, analyzing questions. And then one day out of the blue, it happened.

"I got an email saying I had been selected."

Tawde says it was surreal. "I burst into tears of laughter," he recalls. "Like one email changed my life and then this other one changed my trajectory again with a new job."

Smooth seas never make a good sailor

Right now Tawde is doing everything he can to help fellow H-1B holders: sifting through applications, posting available jobs, putting contacts in touch.

He says he always tells people what somebody told him back in 2020, somebody who had been in his exact position and had managed to find a job.

"There was one thing he said, which has always stayed with me: 'Smooth seas never make a good sailor. Once you go through this experience, you will come out stronger. If something difficult comes in your life, you'll be able to handle that.'"

Tawde tells people to keep pushing. He tells them he now has a job he loves at LinkedIn. He tells them he was also on this brutal, ticking clock and he got a job with just 15 days to spare.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stacey Vanek Smith
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.