H1-B Workers Hit by Silicon Valley Job Cuts
When times were good, the high-tech companies lobbied for and got over 100,000 yearly H1-B visas approved by U.S. Congress. The largest number of workers who were hired with the H1-B visas were of Indian origin. Some of them suffered abuse at the hands of their employers and the intermediaries who helped place them. "H1-B slavery" was the term used to describe their situation.
Things have changed dramatically in the last few months. And they are going to get much worse in 2009. In a letter addressed to Microsoft, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley has asked the company to layoff foreign workers before laying off skilled American workers.
Today's San Jose Mercury News has highlighted the plight of two Indian engineers on H1-B visas who recently lost their jobs. For them, it's a race against time. They need to quickly find other jobs at a time when companies everywhere are cutting back. Both Jay and Prasad (fictitious names) have advanced degrees earned from elite American universities. And both are facing the inflexible rules of their H-1B work visas.
Technically, as soon as they lost their jobs, they were required to leave the country. In reality, they can probably stick around for a week or two, but not much longer.
There are no statistics available yet on how many of the job cuts have already hit or soon expected to hit H1-B workers. But San Jose Mercury is reporting that this "stark dilemma is being repeated with increasing frequency across Silicon Valley, according to immigration specialists, as companies downsize to weather a punishing downturn. It's a small number compared with the layoffs of H-1B visa holders during the dot-com crash. But the downturn has sent a wave of concern through the community of immigrant workers who hold the visa, which companies use to hire skilled noncitizens."
Dot com bust in 2000-2001 followed by post-911 economic slow-down were hard on H1B visa holders. The running joke at the time was that B2B stood for Back-to-Bangalore, not business-to-business. But, somehow, the smart techies survived and then thrived. Short term, things are going to be particularly tough again. But, eventually, there will be a rebound and the highly-educated and smart people like Jay and Prasad are going to do very well. Their hard work and persistence will pay off. My message to Prasad and Jay is: Hang in there , Guys! Don't give up hope! Things will get better.