According to fired.fyi, more than 23,000 tech workers have been laid off so far this month. By comparison, the site recorded 12,463 layoffs in October.
Facebook’s parent company Meta this week announced the first major job cuts in its history, eliminating 11,000 jobs. Like Twitter, Stripe, Brex, Lyft, Netflix and other Bay Area tech companies, many of the affected workers are immigrants on employee visas.
An unexpected layoff brings an element of chaos into a person’s life, but when an H-1B employee loses their job, a loud bell starts clicking: Unless they can get a new position or change their immigration status within 60 days, they must leave the country.
And as tech companies of all sizes put in place a workforce freeze and plan more cutbacks, their ability to live and work in the US is suddenly at stake.
Earlier today, I hosted a Q&A for foreign tech workers who have been fired (or believe they have been) with Silicon Valley-based immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn.
Alcorn, who writes “Dear Sophie,” a weekly advice column for gotechbusiness.com+, shared general information for visa workers and hiring managers seeking talent. If you’re a visa holder who’s been fired, your first priority is to “find a lawyer and determine your last day of work because then you’ll have to start counting the 60-day grace period,” Alcorn said.
“You get a new job, you leave, or you think of another way to stay legally in the United States, but you have to take action within those 60 days.” Look for new opportunities now, she advised, because it will take a new employer time to file paperwork with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“The best-case scenario would be that this new company submits your new employer change request and USCIS receives the paperwork on or before the 59th day since your last work day,” Alcorn said.
“It takes at least three weeks to get everything ready,” meaning candidates and employers must act quickly as the days count down. “You’ll probably need a signed offer around day 33,” she said.
Based on her experience, Alcorn estimated that 15% of the layoffs at Bay Area startups are immigrants, 90% of whom are H-1B holders. Below you will find answers to some of the questions we have received [edited for space and clarity].
I was fired while abroad, but my lawyer advised me to travel back with ESTA, which I did. Does the 60-day grace period still apply?
Sophie Alcorn: If you are in the United States with ESTA after being laid off abroad, you no longer have H-1B status. You have to leave the country to get a new H-1B and try to come back and get to work.
You no longer have a 60-day grace period; you left it. All you can do to change or extend your status while in the United States for 90 days with the Visa Waiver Program for ESTA is to marry a US citizen and let them sponsor you for a green card.
It must be a genuine, good faith marriage. You have to plan to share a life together, you have to show that your families know each other, that you do romantic comedies together and have the pictures to prove it. And the government is going to check in two years to see if you’re still married.
I am currently on an OPT and have an H-1B approved but not activated. Can I change employers without going through the lottery right away? Or does my H-1B need to be activated first?
You can actually change employers without [doing so]. When you’re applying for jobs, you need to make it very clear to the HR person that you think you’re eligible for an H-1B change of employer, and you really need their immigration attorneys to take a close look, because essentially, what you What you need is a change of status from F-1 or OPT to H-1B within the United States, as well as a change of employer.