Survival Guide for Laid off Foreign Workers


Meta has just announced a layoff of 11,000 or 13% of their employees.   Elon Musk laid off 50% of twitter's workforce after buying the company.  Salesforce laid off 50% of its employees in the summer. And the list goes on. These are just some examples of the massive layoffs announced by U.S. companies, especially the big tech firms, in the past year. For foreign workers, getting the pink slip does not only mean loss of employment, but it could also mean loss of their immigration status and/or sponsorship for their green card.

Preparation is the Key

The prospects of an economic recession are high, given the U.S. Federal Reserve's determination to curb inflation by sharply increasing benchmark interest rates.  As a result, many companies are scaling back hiring and reducing the size of their workforce. Nobody is safe. It is very important that foreign workers are prepared in advance for a sudden loss of employment. Time is your best friend. For example, H-1B employees generally have up to 60 days of grace to stay in the U.S. or look for new employment before they'll lose their status due to termination of employment.  In fact, if you sense that layoffs are coming your way, you should start looking for a new job right now! The following are some additional issues that you should consider.

Preserving H-1B, F-1, and Other Nonimmigrant Status 

First and foremost, you should try to preserve your legal status in the U.S., as failure to maintain one's nonimmigrant status may result in denial of future applications for status change or extension. For F-1 students who are working based on OPT practical training work authorization, they have to watch out for allowance of 90 days for unemployment.  Fortunately, volunteer work or even self-employment is allowed for the initial OPT period.  For STEM OPT employment, it must be paid and sponsored by an eVerified employer.  

As mentioned, foreign nationals holding E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, and TN classifications are entitled to a one-time grace period of up to 60 consecutive days, or until the end of the status validity period, whichever is shorter.  That means if your H-1B I-94 expires on 09/30, and you lose your job on 08/31, you only have 30 days of grace period.  Companies usually do not hire new employees during the holiday season. Hence, it could be challenging for foreign workers to secure new employment towards the end of the year.  As to be discussed below, there are other options to preserve one's status.

Saving the Green Card Application

For some laid off employees, their employers may have already begun the green card application for them.  If so, they have more to consider.  Depending on how far the application process is, they may or may not be able to keep the application for permanent residency.  For example, if they have already submitted the I-485 adjustment application, it may be possible for a new employer to take over the application.  However, if their employer was still processing the PERM labor application, they would have to start the whole process again through another employer.  In some situations, laid off employees may be able to keep the priority date of the first case after the approval of their I-140 visa petition. Larger companies usually offer a severance package to laid off employees. Foreign workers should keep these issues in mind when they negotiate severance terms with their employer. It is generally a good idea to retain their own attorney to make sure that their interests are represented.

Other Options

As discussed, one should try her best to keep her lawful status in the U.S.  What if there isn't enough time to find a new job? There are other options one may consider. If the laid off worker has a spouse who has his own status such as H-1B or F-1, changing into a dependent status such as H-4 or F-2 is an option.  One may also consider changing into another nonimmigrant status temporarily to avoid a lapse of her status.  Each visa classification has its own requirements and pitfalls, one must consider carefully before taking actions. Otherwise, it could make things worse.  Finally, if there is nothing else that can be done to stay in the U.S. legally, a laid off foreign worker should timely depart the U.S. to avoid accruing unlawful immigration status. With a clean record, a foreign worker can always apply for a new visa to return in the future.


Massive job cuts are underway. Foreign workers should get ready for any sudden termination or changes of their employment. Timing is critical. Advanced preparation and correct knowledge of the available options can help them ride out the storm.  


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