As might be expected, a December 9 article in the New York Times by Miriam Jordan plays up the drama and the complications caused by the recent layoffs of thousands of H-1Bs in the high-tech industry, and spends only a sentence on the options the workers have, other than simply returning to the homeland or finding another H-1B assignment.
The article mentions one “workaround”: The alien (and family, if there is one) can seek a tourist visa or visas to extend the time that the H-1B has to look for another job in the H-1B system. There are numerous other alternatives; the workers, after all, are not being fired for cause, they are simply being laid off for economic reasons. These are some of the alternatives:
- The worker can sign up for another degree (probably a master’s) at a U.S. university and seek a job as an Optional Practical Training (OPT) worker with any employer in the nation; he would not need to seek out an H-1B employer. This would give the employee a year or two of legal status while he attends (part-time classes) and, after the degree, three more years of OPT status, assuming his degree is in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, or math.
- He could use the subsidy provisions of such a job, maybe keeping his earlier salary, but costing the employer about 8 percent less, because the employer does not need to meet the usual payroll taxes that support our Medicare, Social Security, and federal unemployment insurance programs. He might go back to his original employer and say: “Here is a way to keep me at a bargain rate.”
- The worker could make an arrangement with his former employer, or a new one, to work remotely from the homeland, at presumably a lower rate of pay (in a lower-cost society), but maintaining contact with the U.S. employer.
- The worker could explore high-tech job opportunities in Canada, which is even more welcoming of overseas talent than the U.S.
- He could explore the numerous job opportunities with colleges and universities that use the J-1 (exchange) visas in addition to H-1B visas; I have not read of university layoffs at the same level as those in Silicon Valley.
- If he lives near either New York City or Washington, he could check out employment opportunities with international agencies such as the United Nations or the World Bank, which can work with other visas than the H-1Bs.
- Provided the worker has sufficient savings or borrowing power, another, narrow option would be to use either the EB-5 immigrant investor program, or the Treaty Investor nonimmigrant program, to stay in the States.
Clearly a laid-off H-1B worker would rather not go through any of the scenarios listed above, but there are lots of options other than simply moving back to the old country.
Another omission from the Times article is any speculation about how these layoffs will interplay with next year’s round of H-1B employment, when 85,000 brand-new H-1B slots will be available to private-sector employers, while the non-profit sector can have as many new slots as it wants. Will Twitter, which probably laid off more than 1,000 H-1Bs, be allowed to file for more and younger ones next year, for example?
My prediction is that fewer than 5 percent of the currently employed H-1Bs will return to their home counties (primarily India, and to a lesser extent China), and that the numbers involved will be no more than 20,000 out of an estimated total of 800,000 or so H-1Bs currently in status.
I further predict that the current chair, and soon-to-be ranking member, of the House immigration subcommittee, Zoe Lofgren (D-Silicon Valley), will make an effort to find a specialized amnesty for the one-time H-1B workers.
In addition, I suspect that the routine gift by the government to industry of 85,000 brand-new H-1Bs, younger and cheaper than the current batch, will continue next year.
Also, when and if Jordan returns to this subject some months from now she will find — if she looks — dramatic stories about former H-1Bs struggling to meet the mortgage payments for their once (given the fall in prices) million-dollar homes. She will not term these people illegal aliens, which they will be.