So far, as we near the end of 2022, there have been major layoffs, primarily at tech companies, but others are seeing the effects as well. Plaid was one of the most recent tech startups to conduct a round of layoffs, and Adobe similarly started laying off staff.
It’s likely that people in Maryland and around the country could continue to feel the effects of layoffs, and that means uncertainty for everyone, but especially for visa holders. They’re left in limbo if they’re in the United States on a work visa and laid off from their position.
Adobe said it would be cutting around 100 employees from its sales departments, while Plaid’s CEO announced in a blog post it would be laying off around 260 employees amid growth that was slower than expected. Morgan Stanley said its layoffs could affect around 1,600 of its employees, and BuzzFeed’s CEO said the media outlet would cut around 12% of its staff in an internal memo.
CNN, PepsiCo, Gannett, DoorDash, and countless other big names have made similar announcements.
These announcements have been affecting Maryland residents as well. For example, the Catalent Company started reducing its staff. Catalent began laying off employees at its site in Bloomington, Indiana, near Houston, and at two sites in Maryland—in Gaithersburg and Rockville.
Plant closure was cited as the reason at both of those sites. Catalent, during the pandemic, said it had significantly increased its cost base to meet the needs of customers and went on to say that during this phase of the pandemic and the challenging global economic environment, it would have to reduce the size of its workforce in certain areas. Catalent’s facilities have played a role in producing therapies and vaccines to serve the needs of people around the world.
Understanding Work Visas
There are different types of work visas available. These visas are for people who want to work in the U.S. for a set period of time.
In most cases, a potential employer will file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and before coming to the United States, the employee still has to apply for their visa.
There are different categories of workers within this qualification, and if someone is a family member or spouse of a holder of a work visa, they have to file for their own visa before they can come to the U.S.
An H-1B visa is the most common type of work visa. These visas are for people who are in a certain professional or academic field. They have the expertise and a college degree or higher, or the equivalent to that in work experience. There’s a three-year residency cap on this type of visa.
To be eligible, a person would need to have a job offer from a U.S. employer for a role requiring specialized knowledge, proof of their bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in that field, and the employer has to be able to show a lack of qualified candidates in the U.S. for the role.
Another example is an O visa. An O visa is for someone who’s determined to have exceptional abilities or achievements across industries.
There are permanent immigrant workers too. Those are available for around 140,000 people each year. This is permanent residence, and most of the visas do require an existing offer of employment from an employer that has certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
When we talk about people being affected by layoffs, we are primarily talking about people who are in the U.S. with an H-1B visa.
According to the American Immigration Council, foreign workers fill a critical need in the labor market of the United States, especially in STEM fields. U.S. employers seek highly skilled foreign professionals, who then compete for a limited number of these visas.
Job fields in technology, medical sciences, engineering, and mathematics often qualify.
The initial duration of the H-1B visa classification is usually three years, and that can be extended up to six years.
Before an employer can file a petition, they have to make sure that hiring a foreign worker won’t cause harm to U.S. workers.
While we most often think about the H-1B visa program’s impact on Silicon Valley, it’s part of the economy of other areas as well. For example, many of the recipients of the H-1B visa are in the New York Metro, as well as in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, eight companies that were working toward developing COVID vaccines received approvals for more than 3,300 biochemists, chemists, biophysicists, and other scientists throughout the program. Many doctors who worked through the program are also here on an H-1B visa.
As mentioned when talking about the company closing in Maryland, however, things are changing in the pandemic and the economy.
There could be countless visa holders wondering what’s next if they lose employment with their sponsor in the coming months.
What Comes Next?
If you’re laid off or let go from your job and you’re on a temporary work visa, you do have some options.
There is a 60-day max grace period for H-1B workers after their employment ends. That means if your job were to end on Monday, you’d have a maximum of 60 days available to you, during which time you’d arrange for another employer to submit a petition for you, change your status, or leave the U.S.
The H-1B visa category does require that you’re working and getting paid in order to maintain your legal status.
You’re not maintaining your status once your employment ends, but you do get the grace period to try and get things together.
The USCIS says it counts the 60-day window from the last day you performed work and not the last time you were paid.
Most immigrant workers do opt to stay in the U.S. during the 60-day window, or perhaps until their 1-94 expiration date, while seeking other employment.
An immigrant worker can choose to leave the U.S. after the end of their employment, although this isn’t a common option.
If someone does decide to leave, they should be aware that their sponsoring employer may be required to cover their relocation and travel expenses.
If a person stays and gets new employment, they’re following portability rules. Under portability rules, work visa holders can stay in the U.S. after the 60-day window if they find employment, but the new employer has to file a new Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor.
Then, the sponsoring employer can file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and if that’s approved, the existing H-1B visa will transfer or port to the new employer. This has to be approved before the end of the grace period, or it can lead to complications or lapses in status.
Another option available to these workers is to apply for a different type of visa.
For example, some people who are laid off from their positions choose to switch to a B-2 tourist visa. That would allow for a change of status and then six months in the U.S. as a tourist. If the visa transfer request is denied, the person would have 30 days to leave the country before being considered here unlawfully.
The Effects on the Tech Industry
According to CNBC, the U.S. tech industry seems to have hit a wall after years of massive expansion.
These layoffs are having an outsized effect on skilled workers who are on temporary visas.
The CNBC report says that tech companies are among the employers with highest approvals for H-1B visas, and Silicon Valley has relied on these visas for years.
If people can’t find a new job to sponsor them in the 60-day window of the grace period, they have to leave the U.S.
More than 50,000 workers in the tech industry were let go from their positions in November.
At Amazon, staffers who were laid off were given 60 days to search for new internal roles, and then after that, they’d be offered severance.
For the fiscal year 2021, Amazon had the most approved H-1B visa petitions, with more than 6,180. Google, Microsoft, and IBM also ranked high.
Currently, companies aren’t specifying on a large scale what percentage of the people they’re laying off are on visas, but the CNBC report, says that a search for layoffs H1B on LinkedIn shows a number of posts from workers who are worried about the 60-day window. Visa holders have been trying to share resources with one another on Discord servers.
While Silicon Valley and the tech industry are getting most of the attention as far as layoffs right now, a lot of people in Maryland and throughout the country are wondering what the ripple effects are going to be.
There are workers throughout Maryland here on a work visa, and along with the economic uncertainty they’re facing and the fear of losing their job, they could also be dealing with fears they’d have to leave the country as well.
Some analysts don’t feel that the tech layoffs are going to translate on a larger scale to other sectors, but others worry that an economic downturn is either already here or on the way, and it could affect employees.