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How one H-1B visa recipient navigated layoffs in big tech


For many years, the U.S. tech industry has relied on foreign talent, people who come to the country on work visas. Now the industry is contracting, and there are layoffs, and things have gotten complicated for many foreign workers. Amanda Aronczyk from our Planet Money podcast reports.

AMANDA ARONCZYK, BYLINE: In January of this year, a man named Nilanjan woke up to some grim news about his job at Google.

NILANJAN: It was about 5:30 in the morning. My wife was woken up with her phone vibrating, and she had received an email about the layoffs in the organization.

ARONCZYK: Layoffs at Google effective immediately. His wife also works there, so they're not sure what this means. Has he been laid off? Has she? Have they both been laid off? Nilanjan got up and went straight to his laptop, but he can't log in. He's like, come on. There must be something wrong with the network.

NILANJAN: It took me about 15 minutes of trying out different ways of logging in to realize, no, this has actually happened, and this is the reality. I have just lost my job.

ARONCZYK: His wife was not laid off, but he was. Nilanjan had moved from India to the U.S. in 2022 for what was his dream job - global product lead for omnichannel advertising products. Basically, he worked at Google in digital advertising. And he hoped to launch a new phase of his career here in the U.S. I should say we're only using Nilanjan's first name so we don't jeopardize his job search. Nilanjan came to the U.S. on what's called an H-1B visa, a temporary work visa. And once he was terminated, he would have 60 days to find work or leave the country. We followed him through that monthslong search starting back in February.

NILANJAN: The clock really is ticking because I need to land an interview and start the process as soon as possible.

ARONCZYK: The fact that Nilanjan is here for work and is hoping to stay has a lot to do with the type of visa he's on. There are two main types - immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are for people who are moving to the U.S. to stay. And nonimmigrant visas are for people who are just coming for a while - for work or a trip. Then they'll go home. The H-1B visa is a little peculiar. Officially, it is called a non-immigrant visa, but it's considered to have dual intent, meaning people can intend to come for a short while while also intending to stay if they can make it work. This, in part, was making the situation so thorny for Nilanjan and his wife, who's also here on a work visa.

NILANJAN: We are expecting a baby in May, and I wouldn't want any kind of an immigration hassle to crop up which makes me go back to India and we are in two separate continents during this time.

ARONCZYK: And that was a possibility. The next time we heard from Nilanjan was in March, when we got a voice message. By then, the stress of the job search was getting to him.

NILANJAN: To be honest, I am operating like a clockwork, following my routine of job hunting, partnering with my pregnant wife who is in the third trimester, assuring our families back at home in India that situations have not yet spiraled out of control, going to bed every night vacillating between despair and hope.

ARONCZYK: When we spoke with him again in April, he figured he'd applied to nearly 200 jobs. Out of all those applications, Nilanjan got two job interviews - two. But he had a job offer from one of them. He just still needed to finish up the H-1B paperwork to transfer his visa to the new company.

NILANJAN: But, yeah, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the approval goes through because if the approval doesn't go through, then I'll be back to square one.

ARONCZYK: Meanwhile, he was also waiting for their baby. The due date was a month away. When we do speak again, there are just 11 days before his visa is set to expire.

NILANJAN: So yeah, I mean, quite a few updates recently. And so on May 5, I have become a dad to a little girl.

ARONCZYK: A girl. Nilanjan says his wife is doing well and so is the baby. And then I asked, what's up with your visa status and that job offer?

NILANJAN: Oh, yeah. I was waiting for you to ask this question.

ARONCZYK: Like a scene right out of a movie, the baby is born, and Nilanjan and his wife realize they are really parents. Then when the baby takes a nap, Nilanjan sits down and pulls out his phone.

NILANJAN: I saw that I had received an email from the immigration attorneys. I opened it tentatively, and the only thing that flashed in front of my eyes was a screenshot of the word approved. So I did not even read the body of the email. I just saw approved, and I told it to my wife. So that's the way I found out.

ARONCZYK: The baby was born on a Friday, and that Monday Nilanjan was at his new office, starting his new job. While some people might have been sad to go back to work so soon, Nilanjan was thrilled. Amanda Aronczyk, NPR News.

KELLY: And a note - Google is a financial supporter of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amanda Aronczyk (she/her) is a co-host and reporter for Planet Money, NPR's award-winning podcast that finds creative, entertaining ways to make sense of the big, complicated forces that move our economy. She joined the team in October 2019.