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The South Asian American Policy and Research Institute released a report July 16 noting that Indian American families, among other South Asian Americans, are disproportionately affected by the Trump administration’s proposal to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders. (representational image/Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration’s proposal to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders will disproportionately affect Indian American families, among other South Asian Americans, noted a report released July 16 by the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute.

The continuation of the H-4 work authorization program — put into place in 2015 by the Obama administration — has been in jeopardy since the advent of the Trump administration, which has prioritized “Buy American and Hire Americans.” H-4 visas are given to the dependents of H-1B visa holders. Work authorization is allowed for H-4 dependents whose spouses are on track to get a green card.

The program currently allows about 90,000 people, primarily women from India, to legally work in the U.S. Ninety-three percent of all H-4 EADs were granted to South Asians and 93 percent were granted to women, according to the SAAPRI report, titled “Defying Dependence.”

Losing work authorization would jeopardize financial stability for 23 percent of the women surveyed. Forty-eight percent said they were concerned about their overall future, according to the findings.

SAAPRI noted that 7 percent of workers holding H-4 EAD status have started businesses of their own, which employ other immigrants and U.S. citizens, challenging the narrative that H-4 EAD workers are stealing American jobs. Federal revenues would drop if the program was rescinded, noted the report.

The report surveyed 100 South Asian H-4 visa holders, and includes in-depth profiles of six women who currently have H-4 EAD status.

University of Maryland Professor Amy Bhatt — author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration — co-authored the study with Dhara Puvar, SAAPRI’s executive director, and Kangkana Koli, a research fellow at SAAPRI.

The report stated that rescinding the H-4 EAD program would impact the U.S.’s ability to attract highly-skilled labor from abroad, in turn jeopardizing the American economy. When asked whether they would advise people from abroad to come to the U.S., 81 percent of H-4 EAD holders surveyed said that they would not. When asked why, 74 percent mentioned the reason being current immigration policy, according to the report, which also noted that 18 percent of respondents mentioned that they would advise others to search for opportunities in other countries.

“The loss of immigrant talent to the U.S. will have long-term negative consequences as other countries benefit,” wrote the authors.

The Department of Homeland Security Feb. 20 submitted a draft rule ending the H-4 EAD program to the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the OMB is currently reviewing the rule.

After OIRA returns the draft rule to DHS, the agency must incorporate OIRA’s edits and enter it into the Federal Register, where it will undergo a 30-60 day public comment period. DHS was expected to enter a draft rule in the Federal Register in June, but had not done so as of press time July 17. (See earlier India-West story on H-4 visas here: https://bit.ly/2MeQj22)

SAAPRI board member Tejas Shah, a prominent immigration attorney, said in a press statement announcing the release of the report: “Our hope is that SAAPRI’s data can be used to support advocacy efforts to protect the EAD and drive evidence-based comments to USCIS during the public comment period that will open once the proposed rule change is published to the Federal Register.”

The news about H-4 EAD recision has had a negative impact on several women holding work authorization status. Mahi, a software engineer and H-4 EAD holder since April 2017, told the authors that having work authorization in this manner “was not seen as an advantage during her job application process.”

“Most employers would reject me straight away after learning that I have an H-4 EAD. It was very stressful to find a job but thankfully someone at least agreed to hire me. I started working from July 2018,” she said.

Urvashi, a Ph.D. graduate in Cultural Studies, was unable to find a job in academia, and ended up in a teaching position at a tutoring firm. “I was hired but fired in 15 days because of press releases by the USCIS stating they were preparing to undo H-4 EAD,” she told researchers, adding: “I am currently working freelance platforms earning a fraction of what I could in a regular full-time job.”

The reported noted that being unemployed impacted the mental and physical stability of many of the women who were surveyed, and also affected marital relationships.

The full report can be read here: https://bit.ly/2Ghmb0t

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