Google Pauses Green Card Applications, Leaving Foreign Workers in Limbo

Google and other big tech firms have paused filing new PERM applications, dealing a blow to foreign-born tech workers who rely on company visa sponsorship.

Google layoff
Google has paused all new PERM applications, dealing a blow to its immigrant workers. Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A day before announcing it will lay off 12,000 employees, or 6 percent of its global workforce, Google sent an email to its foreign employees in the U.S. notifying them the company will pause any new filings of PERM, or Program Electronic Review Management, a key step in obtaining an employer-sponsored green card.

The email was posted by a Google employee Jan. 19 on Team Blind, an anonymous social networking site for verified tech workers. Another Team Blind user shared the same announcement.

Google confirmed the pause of PERM filing in a statement and said the decision was made “as a result of tech companies’ well publicized hiring and staffing reductions” in recent weeks and to ensure “compliance with the Department of Labor regulations.” Other companies have similarly paused such applications, according to a Google spokesperson.

Suspending PERM applications will most affect U.S.-based foreign workers whose temporary work visas are expiring and those seeking permanent residence in the country.

PERM is the first step in a green card application. Most foreign tech workers start out working in the U.S. using a visa called H-1B, an employer-sponsored visa that allows a foreign national to work in the U.S. for up to six years. After that, an H-1B visa can be extended for one to three years only if a company has submitted a PERM application for the worker. Otherwise the employee will have to leave the country or apply for a different visa.

How layoffs affect PERM applications

PERM is an application to obtain certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) for a specific job position in a specific location at a specific time. An employer essentially needs to prove to the DOL there are no available, qualified U.S. workers who want the job and therefore it needs to hire a foreign national.

In the event of a layoff, PERM rules require an employer to notify former workers who were fired in the past six months and evaluative whether they are “minimally qualified” for the position for which the employer intends to hire a foreign national. The idea is for employers to give hiring preference to laid-off U.S. citizens instead of taking steps to retain a foreign worker.

This requirement can greatly increase an employer’s PERM paperwork when layoffs are widespread, because the employer may have to notify and consider a lot of former workers for a PERM position. And there is a good chance a PERM application will be denied, said Michael Nowlan, an immigration lawyer in Detroit.

“My guess is, given [Google’s layoff] number, it could cover all kinds of people in different job categories, so they need time to figure out what positions are still suitable for labor certification,” Nowlan said.

Every year, big tech firms file thousands of H-1B work visa applications for their foreign-born employees. Many of them end up pursuing a PERM certification in order to extend their work visa or seek permanent residence.

Current PERM rules have been in force since 2005. Industry-level voluntary suspension of PERM applications haven’t happened since the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009 when financial institutions laid off a huge number of workers, Nowlan said.

Google said it will continue to support already submitted PERM applications and the pause will not affect current or future applications for other visa types.

Google Pauses Green Card Applications, Leaving Foreign Workers in Limbo