Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said that she would oppose the move of the Trump Administration to terminate work permits to the spouse of H-1B visas, most of whom are women.
For several years, before she was elected to the House of Representatives, Jayapal told a gathering of Indian Americans at the US Capitol that she was leading a coalition on this issue which worked with the previous Obama Administration to grant work permits to H-4 visa holders, which is given to the dependents of H-1B visa holders.
“I was leading a coalition called the We Belong Together Coalition for a couple of years before coming to Congress. We were the ones who worked with the Obama administration and a whole group of women’s organizations around the country to get the rule instituted around H-4 visa holders,” she said in her address to an event organized by US India Friendship Council, on Wednesday, April 25.
“These (H-4) are the spouses and minor children of the H-1B who come to this country. In many cases of the H1B visas go to men. 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,” she said.
“So, worked with the Obama administration to institute a rule that said that the spouses of H-1B should also be able to work. If we have talented men and women who are spouses, we want them to be able to also contribute those skills. We passed that rule administratively. Now the Trump administration is threatening to pull that rule back,” Jayapal said.
Such a move, she said, would hurt many people, spouses, and children across the country.
“Ultimately what we need is not just these patchwork solutions but we need a comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the needs of our families. Remember that for the South Asian community, for the Indian community 80 percent of Indians came to this country through the family-based immigration system,” she said.
A strong advocate of the family-based immigration system, she argued that this does not actually mean that the country is not getting skilled people. “It just means that people come for slightly different reasons and then contribute those skills,” she said.
As such she urged the Indian Americans not to be pulled into an idea that somehow Indians need a merit-based system, because the family system has not benefited the community.
“In fact, the family immigration system has been critically important to the Indian community,” Jayapal said. “We need to make sure we preserve the family-based immigration system; that we allow undocumented immigrants who have been here for a long time to legalize; that we continue our employment-based system which has been so important and many of our industries and ultimately we pass a bipartisan reform,” she said.
The first-time lawmaker from Washington State has made a mark for herself in the Democratic party leadership. She serves on the Judiciary Committee. She is also Vice ranking member of the budget committee. She is now seen as a national leader on immigration-related issues.
“Immigration is not just good for our families; it’s also good for our economy and it’s a core part of who we are as a country. The issue of immigration has never just been about immigration. It’s been about who we are as a country and what we’re willing to stand up for,” she said.
Jayapal said she knows this because of the district that she represents is Seattle and the surrounding areas where many of the large corporations have a need for skilled workers. In fact, she herself was on an H-1B visa.
“I understand how important it is that we have our H-1 B visa program in a way that works. Yes, there are some places where we need to reform and adjust it to make sure that we’re not taking advantage of that program to make sure that we continue to allow American workers to have jobs,” she noted.
But all of the research shows that immigration does not take jobs away from people. It actually contributes to greater economic growth but also the ability for American workers to move up themselves, Jayapal asserted.