Big tech companies’ big green card question


Happiness response monitors are waiting for immigrants to leave at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Irving, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

  • Big tech companies have eliminated PERM applications, often the first step in getting a green card.
  • Massive layoffs at Google, Amazon, Meta and other tech companies have made this process even more difficult.
  • Top immigration attorney Ava Benach advises foreign tech workers to look beyond Silicon Valley.

Big tech companies have largely abandoned green card applications as the process has become more difficult and competition for talent has decreased.

The situation makes it harder for foreign tech workers to stay in the United States, which could mean overseas candidates must look outside Silicon Valley and New York City for job opportunities in the industry.

Google stopped so-called PERM applications in January 2023 and laid off 12,000 employees that same month. PERM is a certification process operated by the Department of Labor. Its purpose is to ensure that admitting foreign workers into the country does not affect job opportunities, wages or working conditions for U.S. workers. This is usually the first step in obtaining a green card.

Google employees were told earlier this year that the company would not restart the PERM process until at least the first quarter of 2025, according to a current employee with direct knowledge of the matter. A Google spokesman declined to comment.

“Tech companies have been following Google’s lead and slowing down on green card applications,” said Ava Benach, founding partner at Benach Collopy, a leading immigration law firm in Washington, D.C.

“Google has a huge influence here,” she added. “It has a reputation for treating its employees well and being a leader on those things, so if Google pulls out, that opens up an opportunity for other tech companies to pull out as well.”

Amazon and Meta’s Moves

Earlier this year, Amazon told employees it would continue to suspend all new PERM applications until 2024, according to an internal announcement seen by Business Insider.

Amazon said in the memo that it initially suspended PERM applications in 2023 and decided to suspend them until the end of the year after reviewing “labor market conditions and immigration requirements.”

While Meta continues to sponsor green cards for international employees, the process has become extremely slow. A current employee familiar with Meta's recruitment process said it now takes “a year or more” to obtain a green card through Meta.

PERM is more difficult now

a wave layoffs Cooperation between Google, Amazon, Meta and other technology companies has made the PERM process more complex.

Companies must now prove that laid-off employees are not eligible for jobs designed for foreign workers.They also people must be informed Prior to filing a PERM application for a foreign worker, they had been laid off due to a job vacancy within the past six months.

“The labor market test is failing as more and more jobs open for American workers, so this process is a waste of time and money for these tech companies,” Benach explained.

“If a tech company has recently made layoffs, they must also notify the laid-off employees of new positions that may be filled by foreign workers,” she added. “If some of them say 'yes, I'm interested,' then you apply Bad luck with the green card.”

Yuan multiple rounds of massive layoffs The company's headcount has been reduced by more than 20%.The company is now Recruiting againbut it must work harder to explain to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services why international workers are needed.

“It's hard to justify PERM after layoffs,” the Meta employee told BI.

supply and demand

Large tech companies may also be less willing to apply for green cards due to changes in supply and demand across the tech labor market.

The industry has experienced a record hiring boom over the past decade, which has only intensified during the heat of the pandemic. The PERM process is a useful weapon as large tech companies compete for a limited supply of tech talent.

“It's a tedious, arduous process that no one enjoys. This often happens when companies compete fiercely for talent,” Benach explains. “Saying 'We'll get you a green card' is a huge perk in attracting the best technical employees.”

“So when there are more skilled people in the market, like now, these companies don't have to do that,” she added. “They’re not all competing for talent anymore, or at least not as much.”

Alternatives to Foreign Skilled Workers

What if the foreign skilled worker’s current employer takes too long to process the PERM application, or stops the process altogether?

Benach advises candidates to look outside the Bay Area and New York City for U.S. tech jobs. She noted that many other employers across the country are in need of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics qualifications.

“It's not just Google and other big Silicon Valley companies,” Benach said. “Other companies in other parts of the country are in dire need of skilled workers.”

The labor market test of the PERM process is inherently localized. There are fewer tech workers in other parts of the country, and some are unwilling to move far away to find work. She explained that this therefore makes the green card application process potentially easier outside of areas like the Bay Area and New York City.

Big tech companies are also trying alternatives

An Amazon spokesperson said in an email to BI that the company is working with affected employees to find “alternative immigration pathways” to extend their stay in the United States.

The Meta employee pointed out that in order to get around the PERM hurdle, some companies choose to classify international employees as national interest exemption applicants.

National interest waiver applications can be completed without company sponsorship, so employees can “self-apply” without a specific job offer. This process categorizes foreign candidates as individuals with specific skills and experience that would benefit the United States if they became permanent residents.

NIW applications surge in 2023, data shows data From U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Google wants to change role

Google is trying to solve the PERM bottleneck. On Wednesday, it submitted a letter to the Labor Department advocating for changes to expand the list of jobs for which green cards can be expedited.

This “Schedule A” list focuses on jobs that the Department of Labor considers to be in short supply. This list has not been updated in 20 years, and Google believes that the development of this list has failed to meet the needs of the modern labor market.

Google is particularly in need of artificial intelligence experts, and the company says it would be difficult to hire all of them.

“We expect our demand for artificial intelligence engineer positions (including software engineers, research engineers, and research scientists) to increase significantly in the coming years,” Google wrote in the letter. “Advances in artificial intelligence are delivering incredible prospects, but a lack of skilled professionals may prevent it from reaching its full potential.”

Are you a foreign technology worker who is worried about applying for a green card? keep in touch:

Contact Hugh Langley via encrypted messaging app signal and telegraph (628-228-1836) or through e-mail.

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