By the time Facebook transformed into Meta in late 2021, it didn’t seem like anything could end its global domination—never mind any regulatory fines, document leaks, reports that it helped users incite violence, antitrust probes, and plummeting employee satisfaction.
One year on, Meta has lost millions of users, gobs of cash, budgeting for long-term research, the approval of the youths, and the bulk of its market value. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s death-grip metaverse gamble is (so far!) proving a surefire money loser, earning mostly widespread mockery. Sure, the social giant’s struggles stem in part from the factors hitting Big Tech writ large—namely, higher interest rates—but the company is uniquely hobbled as it struggles to compete with TikTok and also loses advertising revenue, thanks to Apple’s new requirements for apps to seek users’ permission for personal targeting. Plus, as Zuckerberg himself admitted, Facebook’s pandemic-fueled usership surge led it to hire aggressively, reaching an all-time high of about 89,000 workers by September.
The bloated workforce plus reversal in fortune led Zuckerberg to announce this week that Meta would be axing 11,000 positions, about 13 percent of its human labor, across all departments. Such widespread cuts are a first for Meta, and Zuckerberg referred to them as a “sad moment” and “last resort.” It maybe wasn’t an unexpected development—there’d been some employee reshuffling and department restructuring throughout the year—but these job losses were steep, in the midst of an already awful time for Big Tech.
The ripple effects could be ghastly, especially for the many workers who’ve depended on employment with Meta for their U.S. visas. One laid-off Facebook content policy manager, Ashkhen Kazaryan, tweeted that her immigration status made it imperative she find a new job immediately—or else she could be sent back to her home country of Russia, where Meta is considered an extremist organization.
Kazaryan is far from the only jobless Meta employee—or Silicon Valley worker—facing such worrying circumstances. California has the largest population of immigrants in the U.S., and its tech scene has employed a great number of them; Zuckerberg has famously advocated for immigration reform and worked to recruit thousands of foreign-born workers to his company. According to a report based on U.S. Census data, in 2018, migrants using H-1B visas (which allow them to work and live in the U.S., on a temporary basis, within specialized sectors) made for about 71 percent of Silicon Valley tech workers. As of earlier this year, nearly half of Meta’s employees were Asian. (Notably, influxes of immigrant workers to the U.S. have slowed for a variety of reasons, including the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policy, international pandemic lockdowns, and the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.)
Those with H-1B visas who’ve lost their jobs have only a 60-day grace period before they need to lock down a new one. Several laid-off Meta workers have taken to LinkedIn to announce their layoffs and raise awareness of immigration pressures. One former news program manager wrote that because of the cuts, “it’s highly likely I’ll need to leave the States early next year, and start anew in Manila.” Others are stressing the urgency of their need to find a new gig within two months. Since many migrant workers with H-1B visas hail from India, the subcontinent’s press is also closely watching this story to see what happens with Indian employees. One particularly notorious instance involved a worker who relocated to Canada from India to start a job with Meta—and was eliminated in the mass layoffs just two days later.
Zuckerberg seemed particularly sensitive to the needs of immigrant workers in his layoffs memo and his speech to employees, stating that “dedicated immigration specialists” at the company could “help guide you based on what you and your family need.” One such specialist who lost her own job reiterated Zuckerberg’s point, referring to her former team at Meta as “best in class.”
“A lot of tech employers have immigration departments—maybe not with attorneys, but with specialists,” said Fariba Faiz, a San Francisco–based immigration lawyer. “My hope is that they can navigate all the affected immigrants’ journeys, because they may not know all the nuances.” It’s not just H-1B visa holders who are affected, as she explained. “Most likely, they have students or recent graduates, who would be on optional practical training, and they need to be employed to retain their status,” Faiz said. “Or, they may try to go back to school to retain their residency.”
What about affected employees from countries where it may be dangerous for them to return, as in Kazaryan’s case? “Those from countries where they’re in danger might have an asylum claim, or, if they’re in a relationship, this might be catalyst … to marry their partner and claim the status,” said Faiz. The latter solution is pretty drastic, of course, and not a silver bullet, since married immigrants still have to apply for a green card—and there are severe consequences if U.S. immigration authorities determine such a marriage to be fraudulent. Others might decide to launch their own startup within the U.S., a route made possible through the government’s International Entrepreneur Parole program. (Of course, it may be difficult to sustain a startup right now given the ever-present specter of high interest rates.)
If any of these workers feel like they were unfairly targeted for elimination, the legal route could also be an option. But, since the layoffs hit a broad swath of the company, and the complete demographics of the affected workers are unknown as of yet, it’s unlikely they’d be able to make such a case. “It can be more difficult to prove discrimination against an individual employee when that employee is lumped into a larger layoff,” California-based employment lawyer Supreeta Sampath wrote in an email.
And, with plenty of other tech companies implementing their own hiring freezes and layoffs, new opportunities in the sector are far less freely available than they used to be. Whatever the context, the immigrant employees who lost their jobs with Meta have a difficult, stressful time ahead of them.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.