Layoffs in the tech industry, including at firms such as Twitter, Meta and Amazon, have affected a significant number of Indians working in the US on visas such as the H-1B. California-based journalist Savita Patel talks to workers who face the prospect of being forced to return to India if they cannot find another job.
Surbhi Gupta, an Indian engineer working in the US since 2009, was shocked when Meta fired her this month. “I was doing well at work,” she says.
On 9 November, Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, announced it would cut 13% of its workforce – the first mass layoff in the firm’s history resulting in 11,000 employees losing their jobs. .
“None of us slept that night,” says Ms. Gupta. “At 6 in the morning, I got the email. I could neither reach my computer nor the office gym. It felt like a break-up.”
Ms Gupta is likely to be a familiar face to Indians. The winner of the 2018 Miss India-California pageant, she was recently featured in the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking.
Now he is one of thousands of highly educated and skilled immigrant workers laid off by US tech companies this month.
Most of them work in the US on HI-B visas. It is a non-immigrant visa that allows firms to hire foreigners for up to six years in positions for which they have been unable to find US employees.
It also allows holders to apply for permanent residency in the US and buy property in the country.
Ms Gupta says she worked very hard to build a life in America for “over 15 years”.
His visa now hinges on him finding his next job.
Worldwide, more than 120,000 tech workers have lost jobs as a result of cuts by American tech companies, according to the Layoffs.fyi website that tracks tech job cuts.
While the companies haven’t released India-specific numbers, “this has hit the Indian community particularly hard,” says Swati Khandelwa, a San Jose-based immigration attorney.
“We saw an increase in calls for counseling,” she says. “Everyone is worried, even people who haven’t been fired fear they might be [fired] Later.”
For Indian tech workers, retrenchment doesn’t just mean finding new employment, but also finding employers willing to help them continue with their jobs and pay for the associated legal costs.
“If a new employer is unable to transfer your visa petition in 60 days, the remedy is to leave people [the US] And re-enter for work after the paperwork is done,” says Ms. Khandelwal.
“But the practical aspect is that people will get stuck in India as there are not many visa stamping appointments available at consulates,” she says.
The wait time for a visa appointment at US consulates in India has reached 800 days in some cases.
This is the reason why the layoffs have come as an unpleasant surprise for the Indian workers.
Saumya Iyer, lead product designer at ride-sharing app Lyft, says she was part of a team that “took steps internally to preserve the financial health of the company”.
But Ms. Iyer found herself among the hundreds of people who were fired from the company this month. “We didn’t expect it to hit us,” she says.
She points out that the mass layoffs feel like a “tech pandemic.” “My friend and his wife both lost their jobs on the same day. Everyone is in the same boat — reaching out, exchanging condolences.”
Ms Iyer says she has student loans to pay back and has not told her parents about her layoff in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
In the US on an O-1 visa – given to individuals with “extraordinary ability and achievement” – Ms Iyer says she is confident of finding work.
His resume includes degrees from prestigious design schools in India and the US, and the O-1 visa allows him to stay for up to 60 days after the termination of any job.
America’s WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act provides a buffer before the 60-day visa clock starts. WARN requires employers to give 60 days’ notice to affected employees during mass layoffs.
“To ensure my position here and help me find an employer, my former employers gave me one month’s notice, so I currently have three months,” she says.
But for many Indians, even 90 days is a tight timeline and has changed the plans they had. Many have families to support, others have thousands of dollars in debt to pay off.
Naman Kapoor borrowed money to finance his master’s program at New York University.
He was hired by Meta as an engineer after only seven weeks after several rounds of interviews. “I got the termination email at 8 a.m. [local time] On November 9,” he says.
“The whole idea is that an American education includes work experience,” he says. “Studying in New York is very expensive. I worked to support my living expenses.”
Mr Kapoor is in the US on an F-1 (OPT) visa, which allows him only 90 days of unemployment during his stay in the country.
“Meta offered me four months’ salary as severance,” says Mr. Kapoor. “But I only have three months within which I have to find my next job or go back!”
Finding a new job in this environment will be difficult, says Ms. Gupta. “It’s almost December – hiring will be slow because of the holidays.”
In the wake of the layoffs, Ms Khandelwal says a community has formed to support those in distress. Coworkers and employers are spreading the information and offering referrals to online prospects.
“I made Zeno, [a platform] “To help the affected[workers]find jobs,” says Abhishek Gutgutia, a tech worker based in the Bay Area. “Over 15,000 visits have been seen so far.”
Mr. Gutgutia says his LinkedIn posts on Zeno have been viewed nearly 600,000 times. “Nearly 100 candidates, 25 companies and 30 consultants have signed. Several immigration attorneys have also volunteered. [their services],
Vidya Srinivasan, a META employee, says she has seen “heartwarming support from META-fellows” in her efforts to produce a “META alumni guide” for those whose lives have changed overnight. She says her online post was viewed by more than a million people.
Amidst such expectations, Indian migrant workers hang in the balance till they get their next job.
“I’m tired of getting tests done,” says Ms. Gupta. “How strong do I need to be?”.