H1B Immigrants At Mercy of Tech Layoffs
The tech industry’s layoffs continue to send panic waves among the thousands of foreign nationals who may soon be forced to leave the United States. Many of the laid-off employees in the U.S. are H-1B visa holders. In the past few months, giants like Meta, Amazon, Lyft, Twitter, and Doordash combined, laid off over 26,000 employees according to layoffs.fyi.
These layoffs have deeply impacted Indian tech workers on H-1B visas as they face the grim reality of having to leave the US, upending their lives and families. Once someone is laid off by the employer who provided them an H-1B, they have 60 days within which to find a new employer who will renew their H-1B.
One laid-off tech worker I spoke to in Sunnyvale, CA, says that in this macro environment, getting another job in 60 days is an uphill battle. Not only is he struggling with his own unemployment, but his wife who is on a dependent H-4 spouse visa is also adversely affected.
Per Country Caps
At an Ethnic Media Services (EMS) briefing on January 13, panelists discussed what significant policy changes we might expect in 2023, specifically surrounding the expansion of title 42 (as announced by the White House on January 5,) the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA,) and business immigration. Thousands of immigrants are stuck in decades-long queues to port their temporary business visas into permanent green cards.
Will this year finally bring about the end of per-country caps, which limit each country to no more than 7% of available green cards each year?
Indians who make up close to 75% of H1-B visa holders, can face wait times extending many years for a green card. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that more than 2 million people from India will be waiting in the U.S. employment-based immigrant backlog by 2030.
Immigration Policy Needs Update
Cyrus Mehta, Founder of Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC, said at the briefing, “clearly, our legal immigration system through which people can get permanent residents needs an update. The Cato Institute has determined that it’s going to take about 90 years (nine zero!), for a skilled worker born in India, in employment-based second and third preference to get a green card. They meanwhile remain stuck in the H-1B visa,” limbo.
Unfortunately, the Eagle Act, a bill that would have helped H-1B visa workers from India get green cards was so overwhelmed by the opposition, that it was pulled from consideration by U.S. House Democratic leadership before a vote could be held.
Mehta adds, “by abolishing the per-country cap, you don’t have the unequal wait times between people born in India and the rest of the world. But the thing is that if you abolish the caps, then those who are waiting, (the rest of the world categories), will also have to wait a bit longer, but then everybody waits. It’s like everybody is treated equally.”
Dark days continue for prospective immigrants to the U.S.
Stalemate Blocks Reform
Kerri Talbot, Deputy Director for the Immigration Hub notes that immigration reform is long overdue. America’s immigration system is badly broken and we need a balanced immigration system that is fair. “The Senate could possibly move forward with its own immigration legislation. But it’s unlikely the house would pass whatever the Senate passes. So unfortunately, due to the Senate being under Democratic control in the house being under Republican control, it’s not likely that they will be able to reach an agreement.”
One area where the administration has done a great job is with granting of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), first with Somalia and further expanded to include Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Ukraine, giving an estimated 143,800 immigrants the opportunity to apply for time-limited permission to live and work in the United States and avoid potential deportation.
Legal Pathways & Backlogs
Stressing the importance of enhancing legal pathways for immigration to the United States, Talbot states that, “we’ll work with the agencies to try to improve processes and make sure human rights are protected. Try to make sure we close detention centers that aren’t meeting basic standards, try to provide more legal counsel to people in proceedings, and try to improve USCIS processes as well, reducing backlogs and also looking for ways either through Congress or through the administration to enhance access to green cards. “
An important realization is being lost in all these policies and political debates. Immigrants are a key lever of America’s innovation engine. By starting or supporting businesses—many of which are uniquely innovative—immigrants bring new ideas about potential new products and better ways to produce existing products or services in a highly globalized world. A balanced and modern US immigration policy is also a good American economic policy.