Big Tech’s Big Green Card Problem


Big tech companies have backed off green card applications in a big way because the process has become tougher and there’s less competition for talent.

This situation is making it harder for foreign tech workers to stay in the US, and it may mean overseas candidates have to search far beyond Silicon Valley and New York City for jobs in the industry.

Google stopped so-called PERM applications in January 2023, the same month it laid off 12,000 employees. PERM is a certification process run by the Department of Labor. It aims to ensure that admitting foreign workers into the country doesn’t impact US workers’ job opportunities, wages, or working conditions. It’s often the first step toward a green card.

Earlier this year, Googlers were told the company wouldn’t restart the PERM process until at least Q1 2025, according to a current employee with direct knowledge of the matter. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

“Tech companies have been following Google’s lead and taking their foot off the pedal in terms of green card applications,” said Ava Benach, founding partner of Benach Collopy, a leading immigration law firm in Washington DC. 

“Google has an outsized influence here,” she added. “It has a reputation for treating workers well and leading on these things, so if Google stepped back, then this gives other tech companies cover to step back, too.”

Amazon and Meta moves

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

Amazon said in the memo it had initially paused PERM applications in 2023 and decided to keep these suspended until the end of this year after reviewing “labor market conditions and immigrant requirements.”

While Meta continues to undertake green card sponsorships for international hires, the process has become painfully slow. Getting a green card through Meta is now taking “a year or more,” a current employee with knowledge of Meta’s hiring processes said.

PERM is a lot harder now

A wave of job cuts by Google, Amazon, Meta, and other tech companies has made the PERM process more complicated.

Companies now have to demonstrate that laid-off employees are not qualified for the jobs intended for foreign workers. They also have to notify people who were laid off in the past six months about job openings before filing PERM applications for foreign workers.

“With more US workers available for open positions, the labor market test fails and so the process becomes a waste of time and money for these tech companies,” Benach explained. 

“If tech companies have done layoffs relatively recently, they also have to notify laid off workers of new positions that may be going to foreign workers,” she added. “If some of these people say ‘yes, I’m interested,’ then you’re out of luck with the green card application.”

Meta’s multiple rounds of mass layoffs reduced the company’s headcount by over 20%. The company is now hiring again, but it is having to work harder to explain to US Citizenship and Immigration Services why international workers are needed.

“It’s hard to justify PERM after laying off people,” the Meta employee told BI.

Supply and demand

Big tech companies may also be less willing to pursue green cards because of changes in supply and demand across the tech labor market.

The industry went on a record hiring spree in the previous decade, and this only intensified during the pandemic boom. When big tech companies were fighting over a limited supply of tech talent, the PERM process was a useful weapon to wield.

“This is a cumbersome, arduous process that no one likes. It often happens when companies are competing intensely for talent,” Benach explained. “Saying ‘we’ll do your green card for you,’ is a great perk to attract the best tech employees.”

“So when, like now, there are more tech workers on the market, these companies don’t have to do this as much,” she added. “They are not all scrambling for talent anymore, or at least not as much.”

Alternatives for foreign tech workers

What should foreign tech workers do if their current employer is taking too long with PERM applications, or has stopped the process entirely?

Benach advises candidates to look outside of the Bay Area and New York City for tech jobs in the US. Many other employers across the country need people with science, technology, engineering, and math qualifications, she noted.

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

Labor market tests for the PERM process are by their nature local. And there are fewer tech workers in other parts of the country, with some people unwilling to move far for jobs. So this makes the green card process potentially easier outside of places like the Bay Area and NYC, she explained.

Big Tech is trying alternatives, too

In an email to BI, an Amazon spokesperson said the company is working with affected employees to find “alternative immigration pathways” to extend their stay in the US.

To get around PERM hurdles, some companies are opting to classify international hires as applicants for a National Interest Waiver, the Meta employee noted.

An NIW application can be done without corporate sponsorship, so an employee can “self-petition” without a specific job offer in hand. This process classifies foreign candidates as people with specific skills and experience that would benefit the US if they became permanent residents.

NIW applications jumped in 2023, according to data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Google wants to change the roles

Google is trying to fix PERM bottlenecks. On Wednesday, it filed a letter with the Department of Labor arguing for changes that broaden the list of roles that can be fast-tracked to a green card.

This “Schedule A” list focuses on jobs the Labor Department considers to be poorly supplied with talent. It hasn’t been updated in 20 years, and Google argues the list hasn’t evolved to meet the needs of the modern labor market.

Google is in particular need of AI experts and the company says it will be hard to hire them all.

“We project that our need for AI Engineer roles, including Software Engineer, Research Engineer, and Research Scientist roles, will increase significantly in the coming years,” Google wrote in the letter. “AI advancements offer incredible promise, but the lack of skilled professionals threatens to hinder their full potential.”

Are you a foreign tech worker struggling with a green card application? Get in touch:

Contact Hugh Langley through the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (628-228-1836) or via email.

Contact Kali Hays at khays@businessinsider.com or on Signal at 949-280-0267.

Contact Eugene Kim, via Signal or Telegram (+1-650-942-3061) or email (ekim@businessinsider.com).

Reach out using a nonwork device. Check out Business Insider’s source guide for other tips on sharing information securely.



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