Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, and her colleague Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, led a bi-partisan coalition of 130 members of Congress who sent a letter May 16 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging the agency to continue work authorization for certain H-4 visa holders.
“It's the right thing to do. And these rules have made our economy stronger,” said Jayapal, the first Indian American woman in the House, in a tweet after the letter was sent. Jayapal and Love have been circulating the letter since April, according to sources.
“The opportunity for H-4 visa holders to work has made our economy stronger, while providing relief and economic support to thousands of spouses — mostly women — who have resided in the United States for years,” wrote the members. “Many are on the path to permanent residency, and would already be permanent residents if not for the decades-long employment backlogs.”
“Rescinding the rule will hurt the competitiveness of U.S. employers and the U.S. economy, as well as H-4 accompanying spouses and their families. We strongly urge you to reconsider this action.”
“Providing work authorization for accompanying spouses helps U.S. employers recruit and retain highly qualified employees, putting U.S. policy on par with other countries — such as Canada and Australia — competing to attract talented foreign nationals. Many accompanying spouses have their own careers or need to work to help support their family,” wrote the members.
“H-1B workers and their families are most successful when their spouses have the ability to contribute to their household income and our economy, and the freedom to use their skills and pursue their goals. It is an American value that everyone—regardless of gender—deserves to be able to use and enhance their skills, be financially self-sufficient, thrive mentally and physically, and pursue their dreams,” wrote the members of Congress in the letter to Nielsen.
The three other members of the ‘Samosa Caucus’ – the Indian American members of the House – all signed the letter, including Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna, Democrats from California, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.
Work authorization for about 98,000 H-4 visa holders, whose spouses are on track for legal permanent residency in the U.S., was granted in 2015 by the Obama administration.
New DHS data released earlier this month notes that the overwhelming majority of H-4 visa holders with work authorization are immigrant women from India (see India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2INwhsu). Most have technical skills comparable to those of their H-1B spouse; about 59 percent hold post-graduate degrees. More than five percent have used the work authorization program to found businesses employing U.S. workers, according to a survey of 2,400 H-4 EADs conducted in February by the organization Save H-4 EADs.
The Trump administration has stated its opposition to the work authorization program. The administration was expected to issue a new draft proposal in February, which would rescind the program, but delayed its decision until June, to study the economic impact of terminating work authorization, according to a statement from DHS.
After the administration files a draft policy with the Federal Register, the proposed rule would go through a 60-day question and comment period. Doug Rand, former assistant director for entrepreneurship in the Obama White House who helped implement the H-4 work authorization rule, told India-West last month that he expects the program will continue on for at least this year. “Their ambitious regulatory agenda is all behind schedule,” he said. (see India-West story: https://bit.ly/2qqJFHY)
In March, 15 members of the House from Northern California, sent a similar letter to Nielsen.