Recently, I was piqued by a comment from Scott Galloway on the Pivot podcast regarding the layoffs at Twitter, Amazon, Facebook et al:
These folks are the most re-hireable people in the economy. These are over-educated people who are very talented. Their problem won’t be getting another job, their problem will be that they’re under the delusion that they’re more important than they are. They’ll go to another organization and expect to get 4 days of pet bereavement leave.
There’s a bunch of BS in his rant about tech workers that I will unpack in another post; but for now, I want to talk about a group for whom getting another job actually is a real problem: immigrants.
You may have seen the funny memes floating about Twitter’s remaining “extremely hardcore” staff working with Elon at 1am last Friday:
To me, these aren’t funny, they hide a lot of pain and human suffering. I should know. I am an immigrant too. Here are a few snippets from my career:
#1. The worst boss I ever worked for, ran a very profitable company. His sales pipeline was always healthy and employees never had to worry about mass layoffs. But he overworked his employees beyond the point of burnout. He used to say to us managers “If your team is working at 150%, they won’t have time to look for another job.” I once got into a car accident at this job (a minor one, luckily) because I nodded off at the wheel after 6 months of 80-hour weeks and 4 hours of sleep a day. His values also clashed with mine. Once, when asked how he was going to staff a project he had just sold when 100% of the team was already allocated, he responded “Never let staffing get in the way of sales. We’ll figure it out.” The way he “figured it out” was by lying to clients and exploiting his workers: a couple of senior engineers got told to double-time it at 2 clients and asked to “just manage it” while he recruited new people ASAP. As a result the hiring bar was pretty low: When I complained about the low-quality candidates sent by the recruiter (after rejecting 12 candidates in 3 weeks), he quietly removed me from the interview loop, hired a terrible tech lead, and pushed him onto the client. That person lasted about 3 months. I was miserable there, couldn’t wait to get out, and left at the first good opportunity. Why did I stay that long in such a toxic environment? Because H1B.
#2. The best boss I ever worked for, really cared about his people. He spent a lot of time on coaching and mentoring us. He set up growth-oriented processes, held us accountable to our goals, and provided us with air cover when things didn’t go well. He led by example. But, the company failed financially (the president was cooking the books) and when new management came in, they didn’t like his style. So my boss was pushed out and our group was disbanded. It’s been years, but we are still friends, our families still hang out, and that core group of amazing people he brought together is still close-knit. And again, because H1B, I left for a more stable opportunity because the company going under was not a risk I could afford.
#3. The best company I ever worked for, had values I was completely aligned with. They took great care of their people, fostered an open communication culture, took concrete steps towards DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, justice), had training programs to initiate people from non-technical backgrounds into developer jobs, etc. They didn’t have the best pay but I loved working there… I was proud of working there. However, I could never settle down - because H1B. Every new client meant a new H1B amendment, and their lawyers were very afraid of that. One colleague was sent back to China on short notice because the government unexpectedly rejected their application, and instead of appealing, the company chose to not create a fuss and instead sent the employee “home” (note: that person had been in the US for 7 years at the time.) It broke a fundamental trust I had in the company; knowing that when push comes to shove, I am on my own.
As many others have noted before, non-transferable work visas (the H1B in particular) are a form of modern-day wage slavery. You are tied to one particular company, in one particular location, in one particular job role. Given the current wait times for green cards, it’s a decades-long bondage. Traveling outside of the US, whether on vacation or to see loved ones or take care of elder relatives, is made near-impossible. And if you lose your job? Just 60 days to get a new job (i.e. a new company willing to go through the hassle and expense of applying for an H1B on your behalf) or leave the country with your family.
To all the immigrants who have recently lost their jobs and are under immense stress: I wish you strength and comfort. Hope you are able to find new jobs ASAP, keep your families safe at home, and that we all get to live in more enlightened times soon.