Indian workers face a painful exit from the US

Layoffs in the tech sector, including at companies like Twitter, Meta and Amazon, have affected a significant number of Indians working in the US who have seen H-1B likes. California journalist Savita Patel speaks to workers who are facing the prospect of being forced to return to India if they don’t find another job.

Surbhi Gupta, an Indian engineer who has been working in the US since 2009, was surprised to be fired from Meta this month. “I was doing well at work,” she says.

On Nov. 9, Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, announced it would cut 13% of its workforce — the first mass layoffs in the company’s history that left 11,000 employees out of work.

“None of us got any sleep that night,” Ms Gupta says. “At 6am I got the email. I couldn’t access my computer, nor the office gym. It felt like a bummer.”

Mrs Gupta is likely to be a familiar face to Indians. A winner of the 2018 Miss Bharat-California pageant, she recently appeared on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking.

He is now among thousands of educated and skilled migrant workers laid off this month by US tech companies.

Most of them work in the United States thanks to the HI-B visa. It is a nonimmigrant visa that allows companies to hire foreigners for up to six years in positions for which they have been unable to find American employees.

It also allows holders to apply for permanent residency in the United States and purchase property in the country.

Ms Gupta says she has worked very hard to build a life for herself in the United States for “over 15 years”.

His visa now depends on finding his next job.

Worldwide, more than 120,000 tech workers have lost their jobs due to cuts by US tech companies, according to the website, which tracks tech job cuts.

While the companies haven’t released specific numbers for India, San Jose-based immigration attorney Swati Khandelwal says it “has hurt the Indian community particularly badly.”

“We’ve seen an increase in requests for advice,” she says. “Everyone is anxious, even those who haven’t been fired fear they might be [fired] after.”

For Indian tech workers, layoffs don’t just mean looking for a new job, but also finding employers willing to help them continue their jobs and pay related legal costs.

“If a new employer is unable to transfer your visa application within 60 days, the remedy is for people to leave [the US] and get back to work after the paperwork is done,” says Ms Khandelwal.

“But the practicality is that people will be stranded in India because there aren’t many visa stamping appointments available in consulates,” he says.

Wait times for a visa appointment at US consulates in India have reached 800 days in some cases.

That is why the layoffs have come as an unwelcome surprise to Indian workers.

Sowmya Iyer, lead product designer at ride-sharing app Lyft, says he was part of a team that “had taken internal steps to maintain the company’s fiscal health.”

But Ms Iyer found herself among hundreds of people who were made redundant at the company this month. “We didn’t expect it to hit us,” she says.

Mass layoffs look like a “tech pandemic,” he explains. “Both my friend and his wife lost their jobs on the same day. Everyone is in the same boat: they share condolences.”

Meta’s mass layoff caused 11,000 employees to lose their jobs

Ms Iyer says she has student loans to repay and has not told her parents back home in the western Indian state of Gujarat about her dismissal.

In the US on an O-1 visa – granted to people with “extraordinary ability and achievement” – Ms Iyer says she is confident she will find work.

Her résumé lists degrees from prestigious design schools in India and the United States, and the O-1 visa allows her to stay for 60 days after ceasing any work.

The American law WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) offers a buffer before the start of the visa of 60 days. WARN requires employers to give affected employees 60 days notice during a mass layoff.

“To secure my status here and help me find an employer, my former employers gave me one month’s notice, so I currently have three months’ notice,” she says.

But for many Indians, even 90 days is a tight timeline and it has upended the plans they had. Many have families to support, others have thousands of dollars in loans to pay off.

Naman Kapoor had borrowed money to pay for his masters program at NYU.

He was hired as an engineer by Meta after several rounds of interviews only to be fired seven weeks later. “I received the termination email at 8 in the morning [local time] November 9,” ​​he says.

“The idea is that an education in the United States includes work experience,” she says. “It’s very expensive to study in New York. I worked to pay for my living expenses.”

Mr. Kapoor is in the US on an F-1 visa (OPT) which only allows him 90 days of unemployment during his stay in the country.

“Meta offered me four months’ pay as a settlement,” Kapoor explains. “But I only have three months in which I have to find my next job or go back!”

Finding a new job in this environment will be difficult, says Gupta. “It’s almost December – hiring will be slow due to the holidays.”

In the wake of the layoffs, Ms Khandelwal says a community has formed to support people in crisis. Colleagues and employers disseminated information and offered references for potential clients online.

“I created Zeno, [a platform] to help affected (workers) find work,” says Abhishek Gutgutia, a Bay Area-based technician. “It has had 15,000 hits so far.”

Mr. Gutgutia says his LinkedIn post about Zeno has nearly 600,000 views. “About 100 candidates, 25 companies and 30 mentors signed up. Several immigration lawyers also volunteered [their services].”

Vidya Srinivasan, an employee of Meta, says she has seen a “heart-warming outpouring of support from Meta-mates” in her efforts to put together a “Meta Alumni guide” for those whose lives have been changed by the today to tomorrow. Her online posts have been seen by over a million people, she says.

Amidst such hopes, Indian migrant workers remain on tenterhooks until they land their next job.

“I’m tired of being tested,” says Ms. Gupta. “How much stronger should I be?”.

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