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Human cost of layoffs: Without a job and racing against a 60-day deadline

IANS | February 06, 2023 10:49 PM

WASHINGTON: Raj Thakur is stressed, anxious and, above all, angry. A Seattle-based IT engineer, Thakur was among the 18, 000 employees Amazon laid off in what has been the largest single-shot cut by any company since Meta set off off the continuing spate of firings with 11, 000 in November 2022.

But Thakur is not angry with Amazon -- that's just how private sector companies do business. He is "upset" about a US law that prevents him from bringing the same equities to his job search that is allowed to American workers in the same situation and with similar skill sets: chiefly, time.

Thakur has only 60 days from the date he was laid off to get re-employed in the US, by an employer to take him on on H-1B non-immigration short-term visa for foreign workers and, hopefully, file the paperwork necessary for him to keep his place in the queue for permanent residency, Green Card.

Thakur dreads the alternative. If he doesn't find another job in these 60 days, he will fall out of status; his wife, who is working on a work authorisation for H-1B dependents, will also fall out of status and lose her job; and, worst of all, the family will have to uproot itself from the US - sell home, cars and everything they have accumulated over the past 11 years they have been here -and return to India, with their two children who were born here and are American citizens and who have known no other country as home. Just 60 days - or what remains of that period - stand between him and that eventuality.

"I would not blame the tech companies, I think they're just, you know, running their business, " Thakur said in an interview. Raj Thakur is not his real name but a pseudonym he chose for the interview because he did not want to be identified fearing any adverse impact on his job search. Also, H-1B visa holders are subjected to very strict confidentiality standards by their employers. He agreed to the interview only if his name and all other indicators to his identity were kept confidential.

"I would definitely like to highlight this whole immigration process as well which has, sort of, put us in this quandary -- because of being in this backlog because of country caps, " he added.

There is an annual cap on the number of people from any one country who can be issued Green Cards - 7 per cent. The US issues an estimated 1 million Green cards every year, both related to work and family links. But applications from Indians are far in excess of that country cap of 7 per cent and those left behind are added to a rolling backlog that has built up so much over the years that there is a theoretical waiting period of over 100 years for new applicants, according to one study.

There are a large number of H-1B workers from India among more than 170, 000 laid off by tech companies in the last few months, but observers believe they could account for between 30 and 40 per cent, many of them would be in queue for their Green Card. They all have 60 days to find a job and stay on track to permanent residency.

Thakur's place in the backlog is 2013, which is the priority date allotted to him on successfully completing his application. So, he is in queue but that queue is moving extremely slowly, leaving him and others like him in this situation, when job loss is not just a job loss but a potentially life-altering event.

"I wish I had more time. I wish I had my permanent residence in this country. And I'm extremely upset about the laws about the country caps, and that's one thing I'm really really upset about, " he said, adding: "I wish the law changed."

There is a widespread acknowledgement of the need to change this law and several attempts have been made to legislate it, but it gets stalled for one reason or the other.

Thakur has had a number of first and second round interviews with potential employers, who, he said, are being cautious themselves given the large-scale layoffs that are taking place industry-wide.

"They're looking at this stuff and saying, 'Oh, well, I think we have to be cautious as well'. So I've had situations where, you know, I've been through the second round, and then I don't hear back at all, because now they've decided to look at, you know their headcount and reconsider whether this is a good idea, " Thakur said.

Though stressed and hopeful, Thakur is also prepared for the worst. "I'm giving myself a month. If I'm not able to find something solid in a month, my next month will just be focused on, you know, going back home, so all the steps that I needed to do that I will do in my second month, " he said, including pulling his two children from school.

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