Answers for H-1B workers who have been laid off (or think they may be)

According to abbreviations.fyi, more than 23,000 tech workers have been laid off so far this month. By comparison, the site tracked 12,463 layoffs in October.

Facebook parent company Meta announced the first major job cuts in its history this week, cutting 11,000 jobs. Like Twitter, Stripe, Brex, Lyft, Netflix and other tech firms based in the Bay Area, many of the affected employees are immigrants on work visas.

An unexpected layoff brings an element of chaos into everyone’s life, but when an H-1B worker loses their job, the clock starts ticking loudly: unless they can find a new position or change their immigration status within 60 days, of are required to leave the country.

And as tech companies of all sizes impose hiring freezes and plan more layoffs, their ability to live and work in the U.S. is suddenly in question.

Earlier today, I hosted a Q&A about foreign tech workers who have been laid off (or think they may be) with a Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn.

Alcorn, who writes Dear Sophie, a weekly advice column for TechCrunch+, shared some general information for visa workers and hiring managers looking for talent. If you’re a visa holder who’s been terminated, your first priority is to “get a lawyer and find out what your last day of work is because that’s when you have to start counting the 60-day grace period,” Alcorn said.

“Either you get a new job, you leave, or you figure out some other way to stay legally in the United States, but you have to take some action within those 60 days.” Start looking for new opportunities now, she advised, because it will take time of the new employer to file with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“The best case scenario would be for that new company to file your new employer change petition and for USCIS to receive the paperwork on or before the 59th day from your last day of employment,” Alcorn said.

“It takes at least three weeks to get everything ready,” meaning applicants and employers need to move quickly as the days count down. “You probably need a signed offer around the 33rd day,” she said.

Based on his experience, Alcorn estimated that 15 percent of people laid off by Bay Area startups are immigrants, 90 percent of whom are H-1B holders. Below you’ll find answers to a few of the questions we’ve received [edited for space and clarity].

I was laid off while I was abroad but my lawyer advised me to travel back on ESTA, which I did. Does the 60 day grace period still apply?

Sophie Alcorn: If you are in the United States on ESTA after being terminated while abroad, you are no longer in H-1B status. You have to leave the country to get a new H-1B and try to come back and start working.

You no longer have a 60-day grace period; you have abandoned him. The only thing you can do to change or extend your status if you are in the United States under the 90-day ESTA Visa Waiver Program is to marry a US citizen and have them sponsor you for a green map.

It must be a real, bona fide marriage. You have to intend to share a life together, you have to demonstrate that your families know each other, that you do romantic comedies together and have the photos to prove it. And the government will check in two years to see if you’re still married.

I am currently on OPT and have an approved H-1B but it is not activated. Can I change employers without immediately going through the lottery? Or does my H-1B need to be activated first?

In fact, you can change employers without [doing so]. When you interview for a job, you need to make it very clear to the HR officer that you believe you are eligible for an H-1B change of employer, and you really need their immigration attorneys to take a close look at you, because basically, that, from what you need is a change of status from F-1 or OPT to H-1B within the United States as well as a change of employer.

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