Vietnamese tech workers high and dry amid layoffs in Silicon Valley

By Khuong Nha   February 2, 2023 | 03:38 pm PT
Vietnamese tech workers high and dry amid layoffs in Silicon Valley
Small toy figures are seen in front of displayed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta in this illustration taken, October 28, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Hoang Tu said his "American Dream" lasted only six months. He was let go from Google two days before the Lunar New Year.

"This is the worst Tet (Lunar New Year) of my life," he said.

The 27-year-old joined Google's new project development team in Silicon Valley last year after passing a series of rigorous interviews.

This Tet, which began on January 22 this year, he took time off work to visit his family in Vietnam.

On January 20, however, he received a shocking email dismissal letter.

"Before I was fired, I didn't hear a word from the management team. I didn't have time to ask my coworkers what was going on because I was too busy with other things during Tet. I didn’t know what to tell my loved ones about this news," he lamented.

Since his H-1B visa, a work visa with a cumulative maximum duration of six years, is set to expire in 60 days, he cut short his vacation and came back to the U.S. to complete the paperwork and get ready to start looking for a new job.

Similar frustrations were felt by former Meta employee Hong Anh, who was in the U.S. with only a few weeks left on her visa when she was let go by the company.

She said the Vietnamese engineering community in Silicon Valley isn’t as worried about money as it is about finding work in order to keep visas valid.

"Getting an H-1B visa is really hard now, especially for recent graduates," she said, adding that she had recently applied for positions at more than twenty companies but hadn't heard back from any of them.

Tech workers from Vietnam face tough competition from their counterparts in China, India, and even within the U.S.’s own IT community.

Anh, an IT professional with three years of experience, said she was willing to accept lower pay at smaller companies in exchange for a sponsorship that would allow her to remain in the country.

There are no official numbers yet on how many Vietnamese tech workers were laid off during Silicon Valley's record downsizing, but experts estimate the figure to be in the thousands.

Meta software engineer Tai Nguyen revealed that even those such as himself who haven't been laid off are anxious and making plans for the worst.

He said that in his more than 15 years living in the U.S., this is the worst job cut he has ever seen.

Those who are already working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa and whose spouses are able to lawfully remain in the country with the help of the sponsorship program are under even more stress, he added.

"If the sacked H-1B worker doesn't find a new job within 60 days, the whole family will have to leave the U.S.," he said.

The great downsize

Mass layoffs have hit the tech industry in Silicon Valley recently.

Both small businesses and multinational conglomerates like Microsoft, Google, Meta, Amazon, etc., have announced job cuts.

Around 150,000 tech workers in the U.S. may have lost their employment in January. Many engineers and skilled workers who entered the U.S. on H-1B visas are anxious they could lose both their jobs and their visas at the same time.

From October 2020 through September 2021, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that around 407,000 H-1B applications had been approved. Citizens of Asia submitted the vast majority of applications.

Some 74.1% were of Indian descent, 12.4% were of Chinese descent, and the rest were citizens of other countries.

Vietnamese tech workers who have been laid off now have three choices.

Firstly, they need to start by rapidly securing new employment before their H-1B visas expire. In an effort to streamline the application process, they frequently target small and medium-sized companies. If they are not married to anyone, they can "prolong the American dream" by changing their visa status to that of a tourist and continuing to look for work in the U.S. under the B-2 category.

Then there’s a second option for recent graduates like Hoang Tu.

While waiting for an opportunity to present itself, he intends to return to school in order to renew his visa and further his education. He will be able to keep studying for over a year thanks to his savings and the severance pay he will receive from the company after being let go. However, he’ll have to apply and get into school first, which is no easy task, and also takes time.

The third option is going back to Vietnam to look for jobs at home or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, like Singapore.

If her visa deadline passes and Hong Anh still hasn't landed the job she wants, she plans to return to Vietnam to take a break before looking for work again.

go to top