Courtesy of Huy Tu
Huy Tu still remembers his first Instagram working day.
Tu grew up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in a working class family. The idea of getting a job at a world-famous company like Instagram seemed like a fantasy.
But Tu attended college in the United States, earning a Ph.D. Then he landed that dream job at the social media giant, working as a research scientist on artificial intelligence.
They arrived at Instagram’s offices in downtown New York in February 2022, with a fake plant and a laminated sign that read: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Walking through the doors, Tu was startled. There was original artwork on each floor, designer furniture, and free food.
“I felt very humbled,” Tu recalled. “It was like the American Dream, as cliché as it sounds. I felt like I finally got to it! You know?”
The email that turned his world upside down
For the first time, Tu enjoyed stability and steady income. So they book a long-awaited trip back to Vietnam for the Lunar New Year to see the family and deliver the good news in person.
“I haven’t looked at them in three years,” says Tu. “I was going to surprise them.”
But then, in early November — just 8 months into their Instagram post — Tu got a surprise of their own. It is a moment they still remember vividly.
“I got an email at 6 a.m. Actually, 6:10 a.m. estimated.” Tu remembers. “It was very painful.”
The email said Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, was losing money and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg had made a “difficult but necessary decision” to lay off 13% of the company’s workers, or about 11,000 people in total.
The “Unfortunately You’re Included” email continued. Tu says they looked at the email for a long time. “It didn’t feel real.”
But it was real – and so was the terrible ticking clock that Tu was now running.
Courtesy of Huy Tu
90 days to find a new job
Tu is in the US on a work visa, and like most work visas, it is tied to a Tu job. Losing this job meant Tu had 90 days to find a new job, or face having to leave the country.
Tu felt very lonely. They did not want to tell the family or their parents.
“I prefer not to worry about them,” says Tu.
At Meta, Instagram’s parent company, more than 15% of employees hold a work visa, like Tu.
Meta and other tech companies have been criticized for relying too heavily on overseas workers. One study from 2018 It found that more than 70% of tech workers in Silicon Valley were born in another country.
But immigration advocates say that workers from abroad bring innovation and help make the United States the world’s technology leader.
Over the past few months, thousands of immigrants on work visas have been laid off and now have 60 or 90 days to find a new job, or face having to leave the country.
But competition for jobs is intense right now, after a number of layoffs have occurred in the tech industry.
Stacy Vanek Smith
Joshua Browder, CEO of AI startup Do Not Pay, announced a job opening a few weeks ago, and the reaction has him wowed.
“Hundreds of people have reached out to us,” he says. “And they were some of the most qualified applicants I’ve ever seen.”
Browder says people on work visas are at a disadvantage when they apply for jobs because visas can be costly and complicated for employers.
Also, most companies are feeling cautious right now and don’t like to make hiring decisions quickly.
This means that many talented, hard-working people have been left in a desperate situation, Browder says. Many of them have spent years in the United States. They have mortgages, social networks, and kids in school.
“It is a shame that the system has been built the way it is now,” he says. “Because if a lot of these candidates have to come back and leave the United States, we lose all of these really talented people.”
Obsessively checking LinkedIn
Huy Tu says it’s wild there.
“The competition in this market is insane,” says Tu.
Tu has lived in the United States for eight years – their lives here. And Tu worries that 90 days won’t be enough to find something new.
So Tu tries to cover all their bases: They’ve applied to more than 100 jobs.
“I feel like I’m in a race and I have to come forward to whatever I set out to do.”
Not to mention the overwhelming stress. Tu says it’s dangerous to be away from the computer even for a few minutes.
“I get really anxious every time I hear the LinkedIn voice,” says Tu. “I feel like I should respond right away.”
After all, that LinkedIn ping might be a question from an employer or even a job offer. And Tu need bid before Feb 6th. That’s when the 90 days expire.
But even if they get a job, Tu can’t imagine feeling safe in a job again.
“I think stability is a myth,” says Tu. “Even if I get a job, I don’t think I’ll be able to really sleep for at least a year. I’m afraid that job will go away.”
Tu misses Instagram at work, as well as colleagues and the office. They haven’t been back since they were laid off in November.
Instead, Instagram said it would pack up Tu’s office and mail them their personal items as soon as possible, including the fake mini-factory Tu brought in on the first day of work and the foil signs: “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Scared?” “