The Trump administration is considering revoking an Obama-era rule that extends work authorisation to the spouses of H-1B visa holders, a move that could affect thousands of Indian workers and their families.
Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B, or high-skilled, visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the US on H-4 dependent visas, under a rule introduced by the previous Obama administration. In 2016, more than 41,000 H-4 visa holders were issued work authorisation. This year till June more than 36,000 H-4 visa holders were issued work authorisation.
The H-1B programme attracts foreign specialised workers to come to the US for employment, many of them from India and China. “DHS is proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation,” said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a latest regulation.
According to the notice, the changes are being made in light of President Trump’s ‘Buy American and Hire American’ order issued earlier this year. According to CNN, while changing the rule wouldn’t prevent spouses of H-1B holders from pursuing other avenues for work authorisation, it could deter a number of high-skilled immigrants from staying in the US if their spouses can’t easily find work.
The Wall Street Journal said such a proposal dismayed supporters of the programme. “This announcement places into jeopardy thousands of hardworking, contributing individuals who have started their own businesses — and often have US citizen children — who will needlessly be forced to revert to a status of inactivity,” Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who worked for the Obama administration, told the daily.
As well as dropping the rule allowing spouses to work, the Department of Homeland Security statement mentioned plans for other changes to the H-1B visa programme. They include revising the definition of what occupations are eligible for the programme “to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals”, CNN said.
That would be a standard potentially far above what is currently understood under the law. The Obama-era rule allowing spouses to work already faces a legal challenge. A group called Save Jobs USA filed a lawsuit in April 2015 arguing that it threatens American jobs.
The Trump administration’s plans to overhaul the H-1B programme has caused particular alarm in India, which accounts for 70 per cent of all H-1B workers. The H-1B is a common visa route for highly skilled foreigners to find work at companies in the US. It is valid for three years, and can be renewed for another three years. It is a programme that’s particularly popular in the tech community, with many engineers vying for one of the programme’s 85,000 visas each year.