Advising Clients Impacted by the Tech Layoffs
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This is part one of a two-part series.
As of mid-February, 93,000 tech workers have been laid off from their jobs. More than 174 tech companies were a part of this process impacting a lot of lives. Approximately 30-40% of those workers were Indians on work visas, which means that the overall number of impacted employees on work visas was higher than this.
Unfortunately, when companies inflict massive layoffs, very rarely do they consider the immigration status of the impacted employees.
There are hundreds of employees on work visas who are having to scramble to find a solution. This is because if you lose a job on a work visa and you are in the U.S., you have 60 days and sometimes less to find a new job. If you are outside the U.S. you cannot come back as your sole reason for being in the U.S. is no longer valid.
The situation is devastating for those impacted and has a cascading effect on a lot of lives. For example, Google paused its green-card process, impacting hundreds of other employees. It’s tough to make a case for permanent residency while letting others go.
For those advisors working with foreign nationals on work visas, I’ll discuss a couple of things you can do to help your clients who are impacted.
Some background on H-1B and other work visas
The following is a brief discussion of some of the common work visas. This includes H-1B, TN, L-1, E-3, and the O-1. At a high level:
- They are non-immigrant visas, although each has specific criteria.
- They allow the holder to work and live in the U.S.
- The holder is allowed to bring in his/her family on the equivalent dependent visa.
- They are tied to one employer.
- They have a term limit, and within that term, they are valid if the job continues to exist.
- A few of them are dual-intent visas, which means the holder can seek permanent residency while living in the U.S. on the non-immigrant visa.
The most common work visa is the H-1B visa given to those with certain specialized skills.
It’s in such high demand that U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service (USCIS) has established a lottery to decide who gets a chance to apply. For example, for the fiscal year 2023, the USCIS received 483,927 registrations and ended up selecting 127,000 to apply for the 85,000 visas available.
How to help your clients laid off on a work visa
As I pointed out, they have 60 days or less to figure out a solution. Otherwise, they need to leave the country. Assuming they don’t want to leave the country, a couple of the practical solutions are:
- Find a new employer willing to sponsor them on the same visa. In a few cases, they are able to change to a different work visa.
- Change to a dependent visa – this assumes the spouse is on a valid work visa.
- Change to another non-immigrant visa like F-1 and go back to school.
- Consider the investor visa – but under the direction of a lawyer.
There are nuances if the employer started on the permanent residency application, which I am not going to cover. The following are some practical steps for helping your clients.
Get started ASAP!
In a typical job-loss situation, advisors tend to sympathize with the client and advise them to possibly take some time off. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the client on a work visa; you need to swing into action right away.
If a client/prospect calls and says they are being let go, drop everything to help them. The 60-day countdown starts on the day they get the notice.
This means there will be no time for grieving the loss of the job, however valid. If they are long-time U.S. residents, they may be aware of the situation, if new, this might be news to them. Please be the person, pushing them (kindly of course) to act ASAP.
Connect them with an immigration lawyer
Have the employee confirm the validity of their 1-94. This determines how much time they have left. If the 1-94 is not valid, they have 10 days to leave the country.
Connect them with an immigration attorney right away. They need to make some legal decisions that will trump financial decisions.
Most lawyers have some type of consultation fee, but if it’s somebody you have a long-term relationship with, they may be willing to chat with your client briefly to get them started.
Avoid the company lawyers, as they are probably inundated and are most likely putting the employers’ interest first.
New job search
Have them update their resume and reach out to their network. This is where you might be able to help them connect with others in your network. If you have resources to share on the job search, this will be invaluable as they embark on the journey. Plan to go above and beyond.
If there is a remote chance that their spouse could get a job on a work visa, encourage them to do it. This is where it helps to know and understand your clients.
Hopefully, you’ve already developed a practical spending plan. Have them put off any big-ticket items, including making purchases for things that go beyond 60 days. Sadly, they may not be around to enjoy them.
If they have family, this is going to be key. They may not be eligible for COBRA coverage, but help them explore other avenues. Some options to consider include the partner’s plan if employed, short-term plans, or travel-plan insurance.
Hopefully with the above they are able stay in the country.
Part two of this article will discuss how you can help your clients on work visas prepare for a possible layoff.
Jane Mepham, CFP® is the founder of Elgon Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor based in Austin, Texas. Her advisory practice is limited to providing investment and financial planning advice to foreign-born individuals. She works directly with these individuals and has flexible relationships with investment advisors serving this community who require her specialized knowledge.