Indian American members of Congress have come out in strong opposition to the President Donald Trump administration’s plans to toss out an Obama administration rule which allows certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to work legally in the country.
The move to end work authorization for certain H-4 visa holders – those whose spouses are on track for legal permanent residency – affects more than 100,000 women, primarily from India. Most H-4 visa holders have skills equivalent to their spouses, including advanced STEM degrees. Some have used H-4 EAD to start up businesses employing U.S. workers.
The H-4 EAD program is an Obama-era initiative, implemented in 2015 after several years of concerted lobbying by the Indian American community.
"I will say that the H-4 visas go to women who are just as qualified, sometimes more qualified, than their spouses but haven't been able to work," first-term Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, said at a recent U.S. India Friendship Council event.
"I oppose the move to terminate work permits to H-4 visas," Jayapal told Press Trust of India. Jayapal is spearheading a “Dear Colleague” letter writing campaign in Congress to support the H-4 EAD program.
Ro Khanna, D-California, doubled down on Jayapal’s sentiments.
“I oppose the move. I am on a bipartisan bill that seeks to ensure work permits for spouses. It is also a question of countering domestic violence,” the congressman who represents much of Silicon Valley said. “Because most of these spouses are women, in the absence of economic independence, they become vulnerable.”
Khanna was one of 15 signatories – all from California – who sent a letter March 5 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, urging her to continue the H-4 EAD program.
The lawmakers noted the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. economy, and added that revoking the H-4 EAD benefit could contribute to highly-skilled workers leaving the country because of their spouse’s inability to work.
In related news, the organization GC Reforms held a rally April 29 in Trenton, New Jersey, to draw attention to several issues facing H-1B holders and their dependent spouses and children. Several hundred Indian Americans were expected to attend the event.
The rally addressed the green card backlog, which has left many Indians seeking employment-based green cards in a 70-year queue, because of per-country caps that allow no more than seven percent of green cards available each year to be allotted to a specific country.
The rally also addressed the issue of H-4 children who lose their dependent status once they turn 21, and must return to the home country; it also addressed the related issue of American citizen children born to H-1B and H-4 visa holders who face the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the constant fear that their parents may have to return to India if they lose their status. (See earlier India-West story here).
“The expected outcome is increased awareness about the green card backlog and increased urgency from Congress to pass common-sense and bi-partisan solutions to eliminate the backlog,” said Satya Narayana, an organizer of the Trenton rally, in a press statement. “This pillar of immigration is often missing from the current discourse and the community hopes that events such as these will encourage lawmakers to act.”