After two and a half years Sujatha Krishnaswamy is over. “Friday was my last day of work on Twitter,” the former tech employee wrote on LinkedIn a few weeks ago. She loved her job and her team and was proud of her performance on Twitter. “Unfortunately, this love was not reciprocated by my employer.”
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Meta, Twitter, Cisco or Lyft: America’s tech companies are starting to cut themselves short. Rising interest rates and excess capacities lead to waves of layoffs. Almost 46,000 US tech employees had to clear their desks in November alone, according to graphics from the data provider layoffs.fyi.
Shortage of skilled workers ‘Made in USA’
The layoffs hit foreign employees particularly hard. Most of them have a so-called H-1B visa, a work permit that goes to tech industry employees in 70 percent of all cases. While these nonimmigrant visas can be transferred from one employer to another, holders only have 60 days to do so. Anyone who does not land a new job within these two months must leave the USA.
“These layoffs are something I’ve never seen,” said Mahir Nasir, a New York labor attorney who has counseled thousands of clients on labor issues since 2010. In the past few weeks, many of those affected have contacted him, including employees of Meta, Twitter and Amazon. Striking: “A particularly large number of them come from India and other Asian countries.”
The fact that the proportion of Asian employees is so high is also due to the lack of skilled workers in the USA. H-1B visas are only issued if companies can prove that they cannot assign the advertised positions to an American specialist.
Sujatha Krishnaswamy was also able to rely on the hunger of American tech companies for years. After several years at the computer manufacturer Dell and a stint at the auditing firm PwC, she joined Twitter in May 2020.
“I’ve been working day and night to develop key privacy features for users,” writes Krishnaswamy, Technical Program Manager responsible for Security & Privacy. Even when she was heavily pregnant, she “worked heart and soul to ensure Twitter kept its security and privacy promises.”
The termination at the beginning of November therefore caught her completely unprepared. “It took me two days to process what just happened,” writes the data experts. To say she was “devastated” would be an understatement. “My H-1B visa is making my situation worse.”
A future plan in shambles
For up to six years, holders of this visa, of which around 85,000 are issued each year, can normally live and work in the United States. During this time, many apply for a green card through their employer in order to be allowed to stay in the USA. Anyone who is now dismissed not only loses his job, but also the chance of the coveted residence permit. Even a green card process that is already in progress will be terminated if there is no prospect of a new visa sponsor.
However, the H-1B visa not only enables eligibility for a green card, which otherwise seems unattainable. She also acquires the right to buy property in the USA – and thus build a life far away from home. “Many H-1B workers have been in the United States for years. As a result, many of them have long since taken root,” said Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
Friendships, social commitment and children who go to school in the USA: all of this is endangered by the loss of the visa. “The prospect of finding a job or having to leave the country within 60 days is very stressful,” says the immigration researcher.
After all, some companies are trying to help their ex-employees in this emergency by artificially extending the 60-day period. The ride service provider Lyft, for example, has agreed to keep those affected on the payroll for a few weeks longer without actually employing them. Amazon, on the other hand, gives its employees 60 days to find another job internally before the company will finally take them off the books.
Silent joy in India
There are ways to extend your stay in the US beyond 60 days. A visit visa, for example, which allows foreign entrepreneurs and private individuals to stay in America for up to 180 days. Laid-off employees are not allowed to work during this time, but they can look for new jobs on site. However, the probability of obtaining such a visa in a timely manner is close to zero, especially for Indians.
This is due to the processing backlog in Indian consulates. More than 900 days waiting time is called here for some visas. If you want to apply for a so-called B1/B2 visa in New Delhi, for example, you have to wait 984 days for your visa appointment. In other words: anyone who is currently applying for a US visit visa in the Indian capital will not be able to get an appointment until August 2025.
In India, on the other hand, people are quite happy about the developments in the USA. Local companies hope to benefit from the return of their compatriots. “In light of the many layoffs, we should remind all Indians to return home,” writes Harsh Jain, CEO and co-founder of Dream Sports, a software company specializing in sports and gaming. They could all help to “realize India’s enormous growth potential in the next decade”.