Spouses of H1B workers are a worried lot By Sona Roy

27 February 2017 News ≈ World News

Millions of H1B workers’ spouses were finally able to say “yes” to that awkward and loaded question when the Barack Obama government let them pursue paid work in the US in 2015

“Do you work?”

Millions of H1B workers’ spouses were finally able to say “yes” to that awkward and loaded question when the Barack Obama government let them pursue paid work in the US in 2015 — the H4 visa was no longer a deadweight it was for twenty six years since George W. Bush signed into law the Immigration Act of 1990 — which opened the H1B floodgates for Indians.

Today, H4 visa holders are a worried lot. Less than two years after that parting gift from Obama, conspiracy theories are swirling around the H4 visa’s fate on Planet Trump after a recent White House briefing shocker by Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer.

Here’s what is making the H4 community uneasy — Spicer’s pointed remarks during what is clearly a honeymoon season for Trump staffers: “With respect to H1Bs and other visas, it’s part of a larger immigration reform effort that the President will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”

There has already been “a lot of action on immigration,” Spicer said, and “whether it’s that or the spousal visas or other types of visas, I think there’s an overall need to look at all these programmes.”

Up until the summer of 2015, H4 visa holders could not legally hold paid employment in the United States.

The fag end of the Obama years changed all that and was met with wild celebrations among Indians in the US. With Trump in office and the prospect of benign neglect to immigration red flags that marked the Obama presidency now gone, H4s have a lot to be edgy about even if nothing eventually changes.

Although the H4 is not applicable to all H1B workers’ dependants, it covers a lot of ground.

Work authorisation for H4 covers dependent spouses of H1B non-immigrants on two conditions — the more crucial one being that the H1B visa holder is the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 — Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker — which is basically a mild upgrade of the plain vanilla H1B under which an IT worker may have entered the US.

When the H4 tweaks came into force in the summer of 2015, a copious document of the final rule explained that the concern about “disincentives” to skilled, well educated spouses of H1B workers and the social/family disruptions therein were at the soul of the new permissions: “This rule is intended to remove a disincentive to pursuing Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status due to the potentially long wait for employment-based immigrant visas for many H1B non-immigrants and their family members. This rule will encourage H1B non-immigrants who have already taken steps to become LPRs to not abandon their efforts because their H4 dependent spouses are unable to work. By encouraging H1B non-immigrants to continue in their pursuit of becoming LPRs, this rule would minimise disruptions to petitioning US employers. Additionally, eligible H4 dependent spouses who participate in the labour market will benefit financially. DHS also anticipates that the socioeconomic benefits associated with permitting H4 spouses to participate in the labour market will assist H1B families in integrating into the US community and economy.

The H4 rule has not been without its critics, though. Pushback came thick and fast. Former employees of Southern California Edison filed a suit against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to try and block the new regulation, allowing qualifying H4 spouses to apply for Employment Authorisation Documents (EADs). A federal district court in September 2016 dismissed the petition on the grounds of the plaintiff’s lack of legal standing. H4s have taken up paid employment all over America, but the pushback both then and now is symptomatic of powerful social-economic ingredients that put Trump in the White House — that of hyper nationalism.

The same plaintiffs, armed with new resolve after the Trump win, are not backing off. They are reportedly in the process of appealing the dismissal of their case and immigration law firms in the US are being flooded with queries on whether the Trump administration may try to end the H4 employment permissions via this pending lawsuit.

Some of the usual caveats apply — that any law that has already passed through a complicated process of US Congress green signal is never easy to amend or repeal in its entirety — just because Trump’s press secretary says so — or there’s a pending court case.

Yet, non-immigrant workers’ worries stem not just from Trump’s harsh methods, but from the complete sway Republicans have over both Congress and Senate — the two arms of lawmaking in the US.

Also, Trump is keen to leave his stamp on the courts now that a Seattle judge has embarrassed the President on his first big immigration order saying the Muslim ban will not hold.

For H4 visa holders who can neither write code, nor are fashion models (that’s how Melania Trump came to the US on an H1B), being the spouse of an H1B worker just got a lot more complicated.

The third part in the series will appear later this week

About the Author

I have been working in an organisation named observer research foundation which seeks to lead and aid policy towards building a strong and prosperous India in a fair and equity world. For more details visit us our links GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS, USA AND CANADA, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS.

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