As large-scale layoffs begin at Facebook’s parent company Meta, employees on work visas such as H-1Bs are now faced with uncertainty over their immigration status, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledging “this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa” and offering support to those impacted.
Meta announced that it is laying off 11,000 employees or 13 per cent of its workforce, with Zuckerberg describing it as “some of the most difficult changes we’ve made in Meta’s history.”
US-based technology companies hire a large amount of H-1B workers, the majority of whom come from countries such as India.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
“I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13 per cent and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1,” Zuckerberg said in a letter to employees.
“I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted,” he said.
Acknowledging that “there is no good way to do a layoff”, Zuckerberg said the company hopes to get all the relevant information to those impacted as quickly as possible and then do whatever it can to support them through this.
Among the measures being put in place by the company in the US to help those impacted by the layoffs is “immigration support”.
“I know this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa. There’s a notice period before termination and some visa grace periods, which means everyone will have time to make plans and work through their immigration status. We have dedicated immigration specialists to help guide you based on what you and your family need,” he said.
H-1B visa holders can stay and work in the US for a period of three years, extended by another three years.
They are then required to leave the country unless their employee sponsors them for permanent residency, known as the Green Card, the backlog for which runs into decades. If H-1B visa holders lose their jobs, they only have a “grace period” of 60 days to find an employee willing to sponsor their H-1B, failing which they will be required to leave the US.
A Washington-based reporter Patrick Thibodeau wrote on Twitter Monday that “Facebook layoffs may hit H-1B workers hard. Facebook is classified as H-1B “dependent,” meaning 15 per cent or more of its workforce is on the visa. When visa holders lose their job, they may have to leave the US if they don’t quickly find a new employer sponsor.”
Other support measures announced by Meta include severance pay for 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service, with no cap; coverage of healthcare cost for people and their families for six months and three months of career support with an external vendor, including early access to unpublished job leads.
He said outside the US, support will be similar, and the company will follow up soon with separate processes that take into account local employment laws.
In his explanation of how the company got to the point where it had to undertake such drastic cost-cutting measures, Zuckerberg said the world rapidly moved online at the start of the Covid pandemic and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth.
“Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected,” he said.
Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused Meta’s revenue to be much lower than he had expected. “I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that,” he said.
Zuckerberg said in the new environment, the company needs to become more capital efficient.
“We’ve shifted more of our resources onto a smaller number of high-priority growth areas — like our AI (Artificial Intelligence) discovery engine, our ads and business platforms, and our long-term vision for the metaverse.
“We’ve cut costs across our business, including scaling back budgets, reducing perks, and shrinking our real estate footprint. We’re restructuring teams to increase our efficiency. But these measures alone won’t bring our expenses in line with our revenue growth, so I’ve also made the hard decision to let people go,” he said.