The Department of Homeland Security announced Dec. 15 that it is proposing a rule that would end work authorization for H-4 visa holders, stripping more than 100,000 people – largely women from India – of their ability to legally work in the U.S.
The new rule – which has not yet been entered into the Federal Register – seeks to overturn an Obama-era initiative that came into effect in 2015, allowing H-4 visa holders whose spouses are on track to get a green card to get an EAD – an employment authorization document. Previously, H-4 visa holders, often as skilled as their H-1B spouses, were not allowed to work, despite advanced qualifications.
The DHS/US Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed rule – titled “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization” – states in full: “On February 25, 2015, DHS published a final rule extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.”
“DHS is publishing this notice of proposed rulemaking to amend that 2015 final rule. DHS is proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorization.”
Once the rule is entered into the Federal Register – likely during the first week of February 2018, according to various sources – there will be a 30-day public comment period before the proposal is enacted.
This is very scary to people on EADs,” Rashi Bhatnagar, founder of the blog and Facebook page, “H4 Visas, a Curse” – which has more than 15,000 followers – told India-West. Bhatnagar predicted there would be a dramatic impact to H-1B families, who have budgeted their household finances, including mortgages, auto loans, and school fees, on the incomes of two spouses.
Bhatnagar, a journalist, immigrated with her husband to the U.S. in 2009. She founded the blog in response to thousands of women like herself who found themselves completely dependent on their husbands, unable to get even a social security number to participate in life in the U.S.
Bhatnagar got an EAD in 2015, but – because of the long gap in her work history – found it difficult to get a job. She then decided to start her own business, a lifestyle company, curating home décor, kitchenware, and giftware from around the world.
“What I want to do in no way competes with American jobs,” said Bhatnagar, adding that she planned to hire local workers, including designers and marketing experts, as her company grew. “I would have created jobs for American workers,” said Bhatnagar, adding that her business is currently at a standstill because of the uncertainty surrounding the H-4 EAD program.
“We are creating, not stealing, American jobs,” she told India-West.
Prominent Indian American immigration attorney Sheela Murthy had also said in an earlier in a blog post: “There is, of course, no evidence that the H-4 EAD program depresses wages or employment opportunities for U.S. workers.”
Bhatnagar noted that holders of L2 visas – given to dependent spouses of L1 workers who come to the U.S. on an inter-company transfer – are free to work in any field without restriction.
Former President Barack Obama issued an executive order in February 2015 allowing work authorization for H-4s whose spouses were on track for a green card. Jason Furman, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a White House conference call with reporters Feb. 25, 2015 that allowing work authorization for H-4 visa holders would add additional talented workers to the labor force and encourage highly-skilled H-1B workers to remain in the U.S. and apply for legal permanent residency.
However, converting an H-1B visa into a green card involves a tremendously long wait. Indians – the fastest-growing group of immigrants to the U.S. – may face a backlog of up to 82.5 years, noted attorneys Rahul Reddy & Emily Neumann in a blog post.
Each year, people from India are allotted only 7 percent of all green cards issued that year, explained Reddy and Neumann, advocating for Congress to eliminate the per country cap.
Bhatnagar has asked her followers to begin preparing their statements for the comments period before the new rule is enacted.
The Trump Administration also must file by Jan. 2, 2018 its response to a lawsuit by Save Jobs USA, which contends that H-4 workers are stealing jobs from Americans (see earlier India-West story here).