- Tech layoffs sweeping across the country have left many startup employees on H-1B visas in a bind.
- These immigrant employees have only a 60-day window to find a new job or face leaving the country.
- Here are three steps laid off visa holders should take, according to tech industry experts.
Since the massive wave of startup layoffs began at the end of 2022, many immigrant workers have been left scrambling to find a new employer within a 60-day window — the maximum amount of time the US allows foreign workers to find a new job.
“60 days is not a lot of time,” said Eugene Malobrodsky, a partner at One Way Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in immigrant-led startups.
Since its creation in 1990, the H-1B work visa in the United States has been crucial for tech companies and startups hiring “highly skilled workers” from outside the country to come in and fill specialty technical and engineering roles. For immigrants wanting to land jobs at US tech companies, it was one of the most surefire ways to land employment and begin a path to citizenship, if they wanted to immigrate.
Though, it appears that laid off immigrant workers are having success finding new roles. According to survey data from the recruiting company ZipRecruiter, 78.7% of visa holders who were laid off since July 2022 have already found new jobs, compared with only 38% of US citizens.
Insider spoke with immigration attorneys, venture capitalists, and recruitment experts and compiled the three most important steps laid off H-1B visa holders should take during their 60-day window.
Speak with an immigration attorney
The most important thing that laid off immigrant startup employees should do is speak to an immigration attorney, if they can find one, said Jason Finkelman, an Austin, Texas-based immigration attorney.
“They can make sure you understand exactly when your 60-day grace period starts, and what options are available to you,” he said.
An attorney can provide useful information about the documents to have ready to file in the case of a new role, and can help keep track of important deadlines, like when the H-1B visa lottery opens up on March 1 to all US employers, Finkelman said. And since immigration law is within federal jurisdiction, there’s some leeway as to where an attorney the worker chooses to work with is based, if they’re willing to accept remote clients.
Look into other visa categories
An attorney can also advise on what other visa categories a worker could be eligible for. Getting a new visa could buy some time in a job search, and there are options to swap to other types of visas, if a worker doesn’t think they can land a job in time, said Finkelman.
“Just because the H-1B doesn’t work, maybe you could get an E class visa or an O-1 Visa,” he said.
There may be additional options to stay in the US if a laid off worker is married to a US citizen or green card holder, or has a family member that could sponsor them instead of an employer.
“Everyone’s situation is different, it’s never one size fits all,” said Finkelman.
Seek out resources from existing networks and search for targeted local job boards
For those immediately looking for a new role, it’s good to focus on existing networks of friends, colleagues, and family for word-of-mouth opportunities, said Julia Pollack, ZipRecruiter’s chief engagement officer.
Pollack also suggested looking for open roles at startups founded by fellow immigrants, since they may be more sympathetic to visa status struggles and be more familiar with the sponsorship process.
“Companies started by immigrant workers employ a lot of immigrant workers too,” she said.
One way to do this is search for any local nonprofits or community outreach organizations that help immigrants looking for jobs. In Chicago, for example, there is P33, an organization focused on bringing more tech talent to the city. Most recently, P33 launched a job board with open roles in Chicago where employers, many of whom are local startups, have indicated that they are open to hiring H-1B visa holders.
And if all else fails, a skilled ex-startup employee could start their own company, provided they can secure outside funding from investors, said Malobrodsky.
“If they’ve secured financing, its kind of like a check mark that USCIS [US Citizenship and Immigration Services] accepts,” he explained.
However, many immigrants would be rightfully wary of this option, said Nuwan Samaraweera, P33’s chief operating officer, since this route would likely involve finding a business attorney to file the necessary paperwork and securing venture capital funding within an extremely narrow window of time.