Laid off immigrants get hit hard

February 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
In the boom times, guest workers flocked to Silicon Valley with its promise of high-tech jobs, but now immigrants who are in this country to work are now getting a double blow in this economy. They face layoff notices, then an order to go back home.

Jay is an unemployed electrical engineer with a Ph.D. from Cornell University and a deadline. He must find a new job right away or go back to India.

"The rules need a substantial change," says Jay.

Jay is here in the United States on an H1-B; a visa that allows him to work here. Regardless, when he loses his job, he has to find a new job or return home in 10 days. Jay didn't want to give us his last name given his precarious immigration status.

"I think the expectations are completely unrealistic, in terms of how soon a candidate is expected to find a new job," says Jay.

As company after company announces rounds of layoffs, immigration attorney Indu Liladhar-Hati says she is getting calls from laid off guest workers everyday.

"They're really in a fragile emotional status?kids in school have to pull out of school, they have apartment leases, 12-month leases they have signed up for," says Liladhar-Hati.

Getting laid off is obviously devastating for the employee, but it's also rough on the employer -- who is very aware of the situation they are about to put the guest worker in.

"They have a relationship with the employees. They want to try and make it easier for them, but they don't have a choice because they have to cut down on their cost, so I'm getting calls from both employers and employees," says Liladhar-Hati.

However, some think immigrant workers should be the first to go. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa told Microsoft to lay off guest workers before American employees. He has also drafted a bill requiring that American workers get first dibs at jobs.

"I think it's a little bit short sited that when things go bad you send the same people back packing and then again when things are good you expect the same people to come and work in the U.S.," says Jay.

He may not feel welcome here right now, but Jay says this is still the place to be. Nowhere else on Earth, he says, it is as good at using his skills to the fullest.