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June - 2001 - issue > Career Advice
Reacting to Layoffs
Monday, November 17, 2008

When Seema Gupta (name changed at the interviewee's request) lost her job as the result of layoffs at a large, East Coast technology firm last November, she had little trouble finding another one. A software engineer with two years of industry experience, she immediately sent her resume to potential employers. “There were plenty of positions available,” she explains. “Within two weeks, I had three very good offers from other companies.”
What a difference a few months make. As the giants of the tech industry have fallen, so have many workers’ hopes and expectations for the future.

Why Me?
“Deepak” (name changed at the interviewee’s request) lost his job at a leading handheld technology firm in late April. A former director of business development with more than 10 years of experience in the IT industry, he cautiously watched as the dot-com bubble burst, but felt secure working for a well-established technology firm. He was not expecting the economic decline to hit so close to home. “The layoff was a surprise to everyone at my company,” he says, “because the sales declined dramatically in a very short time.”

Understanding the economic conditions behind a layoff does little to lessen the feeling of unfairness surrounding the loss of a job. Like many recently-displaced technology workers, Deepak finds dealing with the layoff to be harder than expected. “I’ve taken it personally,” he says. “Everyone told me I was doing a great job, and I think I did a great job.”

Unlike many Indian technology workers laid off recently in Silicon Valley, however, Deepak does have options. An American citizen, he may stay in the Unites States for as long as it takes to find another position. However, for Indian technology workers who have emigrated within the last few years — those working on H1B visas and still awaiting a green card from the INS — the layoffs have hit particularly hard.

Rajani, who agreed to be identified by first name only, is such a person. She came to Silicon Valley from India with her husband last year, but lost her job as a software engineer when her employer closed its doors earlier this month. Although her husband is still employed, she must find work as soon as possible to avoid having to change her status from H1B to an H4 dependent. Doing so would jeopardize her ability to stay in the U.S. if her husband was also to lose his job.

Getting Back on Track
According to Amar Veda at the Immigrants Support Network (ISN), layoffs can be very traumatic to those whose immigrant status hangs in the balance. “If a green card holder or U.S. citizen loses a job,” says Veda, “he just loses a job. H1B holders lose their lives.”

Despite estimates that 900,000 new IT jobs will be created in the U.S. in 2001, many technology workers, regardless of their immigrant status, find that landing another job is more difficult than they expected. “It has gotten so much worse lately,” says Rajani, referring to the current job market in Silicon Valley. According to a recent study by the Information Technology Association of America, demand for IT workers in the U.S. is down 44 percent from 2000.

Rajani, who searched “frantically” for another job in the weeks since her company closed, is finding it difficult to even locate open positions now that many companies have stopped hiring. “Although there are advertisements posted on job sites and newspapers, they are usually outdated posts,” she says. “You see them and feel that, ‘Oh, this company is hiring,’ but that is just an illusion. I usually phone them before I send my resume, and that’s when they say, ‘Oh, no, we are not hiring.’”

“I was totally surprised,” says Deepak. “I thought with my qualifications, and the companies I’ve been at, there would be fewer problems. There aren’t that many jobs out there.”

Moving On
For Deepak, the timing of his layoff couldn’t have been worse. He was making plans to move his family back from Singapore, where he had previously worked. Since the layoff, he has had to reevaluate that plan. He now wonders whether he’ll even stay in Silicon Valley, or join his family in Singapore and ride out the tough market. For the time being, he plans to “just keep plugging away, looking for jobs, and networking.”

The future remains even less certain for Rajani. A Java specialist, she is opening herself up to working with other technologies she wouldn’t have considered just a few months ago. “I would prefer not to,” she says, “but I would do it just to be able to keep my H1B status valid. That has become my main concern right now.”

With no sign of an upswing in the economy any time soon, many like her fear the worst-case scenario: going back. Although she expects to find another job soon, the possibility of returning is ever-present. “We are always under pressure,” Rajani says. “If my husband also loses his job, we would probably go back to India.” Doing so would be to defer the dream that led her to the U.S. in the first place.

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