Between January 2022 and this past May, there were more than 10,000 layoffs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of these layoffs occurred in the tech sector and affected many foreign nationals who came here on worker visas and bought homes in the area.
Now, these workers are faced with deciding whether they should sell their homes.
Jimmy Kang, Silicon Valley Association of Realtors board director and chair of the association's Global Business Council, said anytime there are local layoffs that include foreign workers holding visas, it can impact the real estate market because the region is home to the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in the country.
In 2021, there were 407,071 foreign workers with H-1B visas in the country. Of those, 39% worked in tech or computer-related occupations, according to Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"Many foreign workers who are here working legally have bought homes and have been impacted by recent layoffs," Kang said. "They're caught in a dilemma and unsure whether they should keep or sell their home."
Realtors are not qualified to advise H-1B visa clients on what to do, Kang said, but recommended that these foreign-born residents seek the advice of a qualified immigration attorney before making a decision that could affect their future and that of their family.
Palo Alto immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn said the U.S. immigration policy is very complicated. There are multiple types of visas for tourists, students, workers, investors and those seeking permanent residence and citizenship.
In Silicon Valley, the H-1B is a popular and important visa for foreign workers, she said. This visa allows foreign nationals to work temporarily in the U.S. for up to six years, and is renewable every three years if approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Large tech companies in Silicon Valley have taken advantage of this program to recruit workers from China and India and other countries who possess specific advanced computer science, programming and engineering skills. Companies like Meta (Facebook's parent company) have large immigration teams that help their employees and their families navigate the immigration system.
Workers who hold H-1B visas and have been laid off are only given a grace period of 60 days to find another job or leave the country, Alcorn said.
While finding a new employer who can sponsor a visa holder is the most common way for laid-off foreign workers to remain in the country, there are other options, she added. They also can develop a startup or be declared a "person with extraordinary ability or talent."
Alcorn warned that no matter which path these workers choose, time is against them.
She said Silicon Valley legislators have been advocating to extend the grace period for laid-off H-1B visa holders. U.S. Congresswomen Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), former chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, sent a letter in April asking the Biden Administration to extend the grace period for laid-off foreign-born workers from 60 days to 120 days to give them more time to find new jobs.
In the letter, they state: "This group of immigrants possesses skills that are highly valuable in today’s knowledge-based economy and forcing them to leave the U.S. is harmful to our nation’s long-term economic competitiveness. This issue is of great importance to our constituents because layoffs in the tech sector have accelerated in recent months. The number of tech jobs lost since the beginning of 2023 has already surpassed the total number of layoffs in 2022. With the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank causing further disruptions in the tech sector, we fear this trend will continue."
Unless reforms to the H-1B visa program happens, workers will continue to find themselves in limbo, Alcorn said.
"Many H-1B visa holders are on a treadmill of renewals," she said.
Obtaining a green card, or Permanent Resident Card, which allows foreign-born residents to live and work permanently in the United States, can take as long as 15 years. In some cases, it's taken so long, she said, that the applicants' children, who have reached the age of 21 and qualify as U.S. citizens because they were born here, are able to petition for their parents to become U.S. citizens sooner. Parents are considered “immediate relatives,” and there is no waiting list for their Green Card approval, under U.S. immigration law.
"It is a constant struggle living with that uncertainty in the back of their minds, especially for families who have children in school," Alcorn said.
Silicon Valley Association of Realtors (SILVAR) is a professional trade organization representing 5,000 Realtors and affiliate members engaged in the real estate business on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. SILVAR promotes the highest ethical standards of real estate practice, serves as an advocate for homeownership and homeowners, and represents the interests of property owners in Silicon Valley.
The term Realtor is a registered collective membership mark which identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors and who subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics.
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