Tech Layoffs Leave H-1B Holders Vulnerable

Tech companies are announcing layoffs nearly every day, and thousands are losing their jobs. Now pressure is being placed on companies to consider the nationality of workers when planning workforce reductions.

Computerworld reports that when Microsoft announced its cuts last week, one United States senator said the company should give job priority to U.S. citizens over foreign workers on H1-B visas.

"Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect ... American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times," the article quotes Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) as writing in a letter to Steve Ballmer, the company's CEO.

Microsoft announced it will cut up to 5,000 positions in the next 18 months, and that a "significant number" of the first 1400 will be foreigners who are in the US on work visas.

There are no federal laws that require that H1-B holders should be the first to be laid off.

"In fact, the law is very well designed to say that you have to treat H-1Bs the same as U.S. citizens in all regards," David Kussin, an immigration attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in New York said in an interview with Computerworld.

And when H1-B workers do lose their jobs, they "are no longer eligible to be in the United States," Kussin said. They generally have a 60 grace period in which to find a new job.

The San Jose Mercury News talked to two H-1B holders who are in a perilous situation, using pseudonyms to protect their identity.

One, called "Prasad," is 28, from India and has a master's in electrical engineering from MIT.

His position at a Silicon Valley start-up was cut in December, and the company, realizing his situation, agreed to keep him on for two more months to buy him time to hunt for a new job. So far, he's had no luck.

"I just need to find a new job" soon, he told The Mercury News. "There's a distinct possibility that I will have to leave. The downturn has come, companies have frozen hiring, I'm in the wrong company and I got laid off."

Another, "Jay," also from, India told the The Mercury News, "I have a very limited time within which to find work before my status becomes illegal in the United States."

"In this kind of market, it's too short a time within which to land a new job," he added.

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