The bipartisan effort says the administration plan to rescind the rule could send the wrong message and weaken the economy
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is leading a bipartisan group of 130 influential members of the US House of Representatives against the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw work authorization from H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B workers. Most of these dependents are Indian Americans.
Jayapal and the other lawmakers wrote a letter to Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on May 16 ahead of the administration’s formal move to rescind the Obama era rule that from May 26, 2015 granted work authorization to these dependents.
“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,” the letter said.
“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 US employers and the US economy, as well as H-4 accompanying spouses and their families. We strongly urge you to reconsider this action.
“We write to urge you to maintain the current regulation granting work authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers.”
Providing work authorization for accompanying spouses helps US employers recruit and retain highly qualified employees, putting US policy on par with other countries—such as Canada and Australia—competing to attract talented foreign nationals, the letter said.
The representatives said that many accompanying spouses have their own careers or need to work to help support their family; that, they, too, are highly educated and have tremendous potential to contribute to the society and economy.
“In addition, a second income can help provide for children’s basic needs and offer such children — many of them American-born citizens or future US citizens — increased opportunities for success,” the letter said.
“This additional income also contributes to our economy by raising the families’ disposable and taxable income,” the lawmakers said.
According to them, for these and other reasons, the DHS in 2015 began allowing certain H-4 visa holders to obtain work authorization, providing much-needed relief for these individuals, empowering H-4 spouses to further contribute to our nation, while improving their families’ economic well-being, and helping American businesses compete for talent.
The majority of H-4 spouses are women, and their inability to work widens an already existing gender inequality gap, the Congressmen said. For some, the inability to work, pursue one’s goals, or contribute to one’s family can lead to a loss of self-worth and depression, which greatly impacts the H-1B holders as well as their family members.
“In addition, advocates who work with survivors of gender-based violence report that spouses in domestic violence situations face huge challenges leaving abusive situations due to their inability to be financially self-sufficient,” the letter said.
According to a recent report of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 93 percent of the total H-4 visa holders in the US having work authorization are from India. Till December 25, 2017, USCIS had approved 126,853 applications for employment authorization for H-4 visa holders. This counts all approvals since May 2015 when the rule was implemented. This number includes 90,946 initial approvals, 35,219 renewals, and 688 replacements for lost cards.
Jayapal, a Chennai-born Indian American, has herself navigated the immigration system, having come to the US to study at the age of 16 in 1982.