Elon Musk, Once an H-1B himself, Lays Off Hundreds of Twitter H-1Bs

By David North on November 10, 2022

New Twitter boss Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and a former H-1B himself, has laid off hundreds of H-1Bs as he has reduced the company’s staff size by about 50 percent. Musk is a native of South Africa.

Twitter was said to be losing $4 million a day and shortly after taking over the firm Musk laid off 3,700 of its 7,400 workers. Soon stories began to appear saying that some of the fired workers were invited back after the firm found that some of the sudden layoffs had been “mistakes”.

Let’s look at Twitter as an employer of foreign-born workers and then join the speculation about how many of the various kinds of them lost their jobs.

Much as I dislike the H-1B program and worry what Musk will do to Twitter, which has frequently been used to spread troubling disinformation, I must report that the wages Twitter paid in the past were on the high side, even in Silicon Valley, and note that, unlike the Indian body shops, the firm frequently converted substantial numbers of H-1Bs to green card status.

In 2021, for example, the salary for new Twitter H-1Bs averaged $173,742. Twitter was much more generous in its salaries that year than the number-one user of H-1Bs, Cognizant (a body shop), which paid $88,578, and substantially more than the second-largest user, Amazon, at $136,887.

Similarly, the same datasets show that Twitter converted 77 workers to green card status in 2021 and 93 so far this year; some of those conversions were not used.

The reporting of the layoff spoke of aliens “on special visas”. That’s an over-simplification; in firms like Twitter there are four levels of foreign-born workers, in descending order of salaries:

  1. At the top are those who have been granted green card status, or have moved on to citizenship, as Musk has;
  2. Then there are those hired directly as H-1Bs;
  3. Then there are those H-1Bs who are rented from the body shops; and
  4. Finally, there are the recent college graduates hired as Optional Practical Training workers under a federally subsidized program.

Workers in the first category, if laid off, do not lose their legal status as a result of the firings, as do those in the other three categories (unless they find another employer within 60 days). We probably will never know the exact mix of the Twitter lay-offs by these four categories, but there is probably a tilt against those in the higher-paid groups, simply because they are the most expensive.

The Indian coverage of these layoffs was, as to be expected, overly dramatic. One report said “Elon Musk’s cost-cutting plans may have left hundreds of Twitter employees on high-skill [i.e., H-1B] visas on a countdown to deportation.”

There is so little in the way of interior enforcement these days that the loss of legal status by a non-criminal alien is highly unlikely to actually lead to deportation. Loss of status, which is common, and deportation, which is comparatively rare, are two totally different concepts, though the first can lead to the second.

As to how many foreign-born workers will lose their jobs at Twitter, there will be a lot of them, but the exact number may never be known. The Business Insider report cited above said that at least 250 Indian workers were in danger, and quoted a Forbes estimate of 670 in the same boat. MyVisaJobs reported that, in the four most recent years, Twitter secured 1,506 labor certifications, which one would expect to produce about 500 new H-1B workers in those years. A 2018 government report on the largest employers of OPT workers did not list Twitter, meaning it had 90 or fewer of them at that time. Under the Biden administration, that annual report has ceased publication.

Should some of the laid-off workers decide to return home (mostly to India), Twitter would be obligated, appropriately, to cover their “reasonable” travel expenses. There will be severance payments as well.