Recent massive layoffs at major US tech companies have left many Indians working on non-immigrant visas such as the H1-B in limbo. Surbhi Gupta, product manager at Meta who was among those affected, spoke to California journalist Savita Patel about how it took her a long time to come to terms with it, the uncertainties H1-B visa holders face and what she plans to do next. .
It was my mother’s birthday. I stayed up late wishing him and that’s when I started getting messages from my friends about layoff announcements. They were all anxious.
Around 6am here, I received an email telling me that I had been let go. I had joined Meta earlier this year as a product manager. My team was shocked because I had performed very well.
It went against my motto, work is worship, instilled early on by my favorite teacher in school. Initially it felt like the Titanic was sinking because I was losing access to things one by one – the workplace, then email, then laptop. But I was pleasantly overwhelmed and positively surprised by my network on LinkedIn. Many colleagues, ex-colleagues and friends have reached out in a very supportive way, making introductions and referrals. It made me feel like I had so many people in this country who care about me, made me feel like I belong in this country.
My last day in Meta is in January and my H1-B visa [a non-immigrant visa that allows firms in the US to hire foreigners for up to six years] allows me to stay in the US for another 60 days, so early March is the deadline for me to find another job.
Job hunting is going to be tough now as hiring will be slow in December due to the holidays. But I’m very focused. I am in contact with several companies and exploring options.
What I will miss most at Meta is the workplace and my colleagues. Being at Meta meant not only being able to create an incredible product for millions of people, but also being able to participate in fireside chats and opportunities for growth and learning. As a product manager, it would have been rewarding to see the project I was working on go further.
My parents taught me never to give up in life. They tell me to stay strong because I am a person who can turn problems into opportunities. They tell me ‘aur kuch accha mil jayega’ [you’ll find something better].
But my ability to work and stay in the United States depends on my H1-B visa. I moved to the United States in 2009 and worked very hard to build my career on my own strength and intellect. I’ve worked at top companies like Tesla, Intuit, etc., built great products, got top grades, paid taxes, and contributed to the US economy for over 15 years, but I feel like I am in the same place as far as permanent residency goes due to H1-B limitations. I was crowned Miss Bharat California [a beauty pageant] by my idol, Bollywood actress Sushmita Sen. I walked the ramp at New York Fashion Week. I have my own podcast.
We are facing unnecessary stress as the US has a country cap that takes forever for Indian H1-B holders to get a green card (permanent residency). Even though I’m in the green card queue, when I monitor my status I sometimes get a wait time of two decades, and other times 60 years.
Our personal life suffers because of the uncertainty. Buying a house has been a question mark in my mind – am I investing in a house and what if I have to leave. Although having continued the YC [Y Combinator is an American technology start-up accelerator]I can’t start a business even if I have a great idea because I don’t have a green card.
I traveled to 30 countries before I was 30, but now I can’t travel much, even though it’s my dream to travel the world, because I’m afraid of encountering problems trying to get my H1-B visa again. stamp. I’ve heard friends who work at big companies like Google and PayPal talk about getting stuck overseas.
I even reduced my return trips to India. A few years ago, I got stuck in India. I had gone to attend a wedding and had to get my H1-B visa stamped. But it took several months because it went into random administrative processing and I didn’t even know when it would happen. The uncertainty and expectation caused problems in my marriage. Visa issues played a huge role in my marriage. It wasn’t the only reason, but it became one of the main reasons for the breakdown of my marriage. I also had to drop out of a semester at New York University, where I was studying at the time, because I didn’t know when I would be able to return to the United States. Why do people on H1-B have to deal with this?
I haven’t met my parents since the Covid-19 pandemic because they haven’t been able to visit me for three and a half years. They are old and do not keep too well. I constantly think – if my parents need support, can I go and help them? No one realizes how much this impacts our lives.
But despite all that has happened, I believe this experience also has a silver lining. Spirituality occupies an important place in my life. I am believer and follower of Sadhguru ji [as followers refer to Indian yoga guru Jaggi Vasudev]. He says we should not be identified solely by or limit our identity to our professional role. In Silicon Valley, the most frequently asked question is: what company do you work for? But I’m still me, not just a product manager. Everyone must realize that they are more than the company they work for.
As said to Savita Patel
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