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Foreign tech workers on visas face uncertain futures amid layoffs

As some American industries turn to layoffs to counter costs, workers on visas face having to leave the U.S. unless they get re-hired within 60 days.
Posted at 8:49 PM, Jan 10, 2023

For tens of thousands of immigrants, Silicon Valley represents the ultimate American dream.

Tech workers Shruti Anand and Vidhi Agrawal came to the U.S. from India around 10 years ago for grad school. 

"We've been able to build a life here from scratch," Agrawal said. "We came with nothing."

"It's something that we are very proud of," Anand said.

After graduating, they landed jobs in California, which they now consider home.

"We built a family here," Anand said. "We have built our network, friends, home."

Yet, their future in America is far from certain.

Their high-skilled worker visas, known as H-1Bs, are not only temporary, they're also tied to their current employers.

For now, Anand and Agrawal are still happily employed. But recent mass layoffs at places like AmazonMeta and Twitter have sent thousands of their immigrant peers also on H-1B visas on a frantic job hunt. The laid-off workers have 60 days to find another employer, or they may have to leave the country.

Immigration attorney Fiona McEntee has been advising some who have been laid off.

"They've been paying taxes, they've been contributing a lot. Some of them have U.S. citizen children," McEntee said.

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More than 500,000 workers are in the U.S. with H-1B visas — the vast majority from India, according to the federal government. Many have been waiting for over 10 years to get a green card.

McEntee says it's past time Congress modernizes its 30-year-old immigration system, in part to be able to retain top foreign talent.

"We want to be able to continue to attract these amazing workers who give so much to the U.S.," McEntee said.

Anand and Agrawal made themselves useful the moment they heard about friends getting fired. They quickly created a database of laid-off workers on H-1Bs and shared it with recruiters in their network.

"We were thinking we'll get 40, 50 people, and it just blew up," Agrawal said. "We have currently about 800 resumes in there."

The database proved so successful that Anand and Agrawal made a website out of it with the help of two coders.

"So if you type 'product manager,' you search for a keyword like 'agile,' it would show you the relevant candidate, and you just have to look at those resumes," Anand said.

Though the typical interview process in big tech can take months, Anand and Agrawal say recruiters have placed multiple people from the database on a fast track.

"It just makes you feel like you're doing something which is more than just you, and there are only such few opportunities in the world that you get to do this," Anand said.

It may be too early to know who will get hired and avoid having to leave the country, but Anand and Agrawal say the way their network has come together has been beyond heartwarming.

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