Do layoffs play spoilsport on Malayali expats' American dreams?

Anand Prince

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Representative Image | Photo: Canva

Vishen Lakhiani, a Malaysian-Indian entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once famously said, "We don't really talk about the Singaporean dream...Or the Japanese dream or the Estonian dream or the Icelandic dream. We talk about the American dream." According to Lakhiani, data-wise the American dream is a myth, but still, that "mythological" narrative attracts and pulls many to America, which in turn creates an ambitious pool of individuals from around the world. "And if you can figure out how to connect with the right people at the right time, you are gonna increase your odds of success," he said. Recent reports on layoffs suggest many will have a tough time figuring out that connectivity.

In the last six months, companies including Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Amazon have laid off thousands of Indian professionals in the US. Reports also suggest that the layoff season may prolong globally. In the case of the US, a significantly large number of Indian professionals are on non-immigrant work visas like H-1B (which allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise) and L1 (L-1A and L-1B visas are available for temporary intracompany transferees who work in managerial positions or have specialized knowledge). They are now scrambling for options to stay in the US to find a new job in the stipulated time that they get under these foreign work visas after losing their jobs and change in their visa status as well. Even those having US citizenship feel the heat of unexpected layoffs.

Representational Image | Photo: AFP

The developments apparently are affecting the Malayali workforce in the US, as it is a significant proportion of the Indian diaspora. Kozhikode-based Vinod Narayan (popular for YouTube/Facebook videos under the name Ballatha Pahayan), who had been working in the US for more than 20 years, revealed that he and around 1,300 individuals lost their job in March, in a layoff that happened in his company. According to him, people should acknowledge layoffs. "Let people know we are laid off. Let the world know we are open to work. No one can help us if we don’t ask or let them know we need help," he penned on his blog. He remains optimistic and has some plans to steer through the contingency. "Layoffs are always a shock, a trouble, an uncomfortable part of our existence because it pushes us to act with a lot more urgency on both a personal and professional side. It also has consequences that are different for different people. But the goal always is to get back to work ASAP," he noted.

Meanwhile, to check the availability of data on Keralites affected by layoffs in the US, Mathrubhumi English contacted the Kerala government's Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA). However, NORKA maintained that it has no comprehensive data. "We had compiled data on the number of expats returned to Kerala and the pool of individuals who lost jobs due to Covid. No other job-related data is available," a NORKA official said.

According to the Federation of Kerala Associations in North America (FOKANA), at present, the situation is not alarming to those with citizenship. "The unemployment rate is low. In fact, it remains below than pre-pandemic rate. Even if there is a recession, there are better opportunities than in Kerala or India,” noted FOKANA treasurer Biju John. However, he pointed out that “for those with H-1B visas, it will be difficult to manage layoffs”.

Meanwhile, HR experts claim that Kerala firms are receiving a good number of resumes from experienced expat talents in the US, especially after the Covid season. They also believe that the number will increase due to present developments.

Nevertheless, many Malayali expats still believe that their American Dream remains relevant. They still view the US as a country that promises economic opportunity and upward mobility. However, it is worth noting that the American Dream is not universally attainable, and there are many factors that can limit one's ability to achieve it.

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