Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire.  He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force. He is a regular contributing writer to WRAL TechWire.

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.


MORRISVILLE – What do Google, Microsoft, and Net App all have in common?

No, it is not that they are all market leading tech companies who employ many in the Triangle.

Each of these companies have recently announced layoffs.

And tech layoffs are impacting the region’s technology sector as well as the sector’s workers.

Beyond those firms, other employers are also making cuts or have been reported to be considering them, such as Lenovo and Facebook parent company Meta which now has an office in Durham.

In the midst of these reports and announcements, I have been receiving texts, WhatsApp messages, emails, and phone calls from many friends in Morrisville and Cary who have lost their jobs.

Many of these newly unemployed residents are immigrants from India on H1-B visas, a work visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for skilled specialty jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

This can include occupations in fields such as IT, finance, engineering, architecture or more.  New H1 B visas are capped at 65,000 per year with an additional 20,000 available to graduates of U.S.-based advanced degree programs.

Tech layoffs are accelerating in 2023 – here’s what’s happening

Immigrants working on H-1B visa are vulnerable

Many skilled immigrant workers are on H-1B visas, which are tied to a specific employer, making them particularly vulnerable to layoffs. In some cases, skilled immigrants may also face difficulties finding new employment due to visa restrictions or a lack of sponsorship from a new employer.

For most of us who lose our jobs, we can take a severance package, network for a few weeks or months, attend job fairs and find that next great opportunity.    I know that losing a job is a serious matter for anyone dealing with a lay off.

However, for these skilled immigrants who have lost their jobs and are looking for work, time is certainly not on their side.

Why is time not on their side?

Once these H1-B holders become unemployed, they have a maximum 60-day grace period in which to either get another employer to sponsor them for H-1B employment, arrange for another visa status allowing them to stay in the U.S., or make plans to head home.

I have come to learn that many of these workers are the sole income earners in their families, and have young children, who are settled in their schools.  If their parents are forced to leave, their lives could be disrupted and these youth  could be facing a very uncertain future.  Also, many of the documented Dreamers (children of the H1-B visa holders) are aging out of their protected status, and could also be forced to return back to their home countries.

In the midst of labor shortages across all sectors in the economy, we should be retaining  as much talent as we can  for our workforce, not sending it away to other nations.

Rao: 10 Years of DACA is enough – it’s time to pass the Dream Act

Impact to regional economy

In an interview with WPTF Radio on this issue yesterday, I was asked whether turning back these highly skilled immigrants to their countries would impact the regional and US economy.

My answer to this questions was an absolute, affirmative yes.

Canada and other nations are opening their doors to these immigrants, knowing full well that they can leverage their bright minds to create jobs in their own countries.  If we do not retain our skilled talent in the U.S., we risk that technological advances and innovations are developed in other countries.  And should the U.S. lose its competitive edge as a country that drives innovation forward, that trend will hinder our economy and the people who live in the country.

Global talent has always been a driver of economic growth and innovation in our country.  So why would we stop now?

Rao: Equality v. equity and leveling the playing field for minority-owned businesses

An alternative

I was also asked by WPTF what other advice I had for anyone who lost their job in technology but who does not want to go back into the job market.

My answer:  Start a company!

Entrepreneurs are also job creators, as the lion’s share of new job creation in our economy comes from the growth of small businesses.  And that’s the case here in North Carolina, too, though I still believe we can do even better at driving innovation, growth, and creating new jobs.

Accelerating the creation of  small tech companies can grow new jobs in emerging areas of technology, like AI, data and analytics, or robotic process automation.

Last year, in Raleigh, John T. Chambers, former chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems reminded us that there is an opportunity to create over 15 million new jobs in these emerging areas of technology, even if automation displaces almost 40% of jobs globally in the next decade.  Global competition will only get more fierce in the fight for jobs as technological innovation continues its rapid acceleration.

If our skilled immigrants could stay in North Carolina to start companies around these new technologies, we can create many of these new jobs of the new economy right here in North Carolina.  All the more reason to accelerate their path to citizenship.

Guest opinion: NC’s Indian-American CEOs are only the tip of the iceberg

Let’s fix the broken system

However, the recent tech layoffs and dilemma facing many immigrant workers, prove that a streamlined immigration system is as much about providing the pipeline of global talent to  fill the jobs shortages of today and the new jobs of our knowledge based  economy.  The layoffs in the Triangle and the dilemma facing our immigrant communities, are a perfect example of why a very broken immigration system needs to be fixed immediately.

The Triangle is and will continue to be a diverse and inclusive ecosystem that enables these skilled immigrant workers to thrive.  But we can do even better.

It is important for governments and employers to support skilled immigrants during periods of macroeconomic uncertainty and help them to find new opportunities, both for the benefit of the individuals and for the economy as a whole.

Now, lets help all of those who have been laid off in recent months find work or start companies, and for our skilled immigrants in the region, let’s work to accelerate their path to citizenship so they can continue to dream and do great things in our state and nation.