130 Congress Lawmakers Urge U.S Federal Agency to Allow Work Permit of Spouses

The lawmakers argue that if the rule is rescinded, it would adversely impact more than 70,000 H-4 visa holders who have work permits, majority of them spouses of highly skilled professionals from India.


Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and 129 other U.S lawmakers have urged the Donald Trump led-U.S administration to not rescind the rule that grants work authorization to certain dependent spouses of workers with H-1B visas, PTI reported. These visas are the most sought after among Indian IT professionals.

The Trump administration is considering ending the Obama-era rule that allows spouses of H1-B visa holders to work in the United States legally. If implemented, it would adversely impact more than 70,000 H-4 visa holders who have work permits. These visas are issued to the spouses of H-1B visa holders, and a majority of them are highly skilled professionals from India.

In a letter addressed to Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, that comes weeks ahead of the administration’s formal move to rescind the rule, the group of U.S lawmakers wrote: “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.”

It further 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 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.”

The letter, dated May 16, was signed by lawmakers from Republican as well as Democratic Party. “We write to urge you to maintain the current regulation granting work authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B non-immigrant workers,” the letter said.

About 93 per cent of the total H-4 visa holders in the United States that have work permits are from India, according to a recent Congressional report. The lawmakers further said that the H-4 visa helped employers in the country recruit and retain highly qualified employees, which puts U.S policy on par with countries such as Canada and Australia, who are all competing to attract talented foreign nationals.

“A second income can help provide for children’s basic needs and offer such children, many of them American-born citizens or future U.S citizens, increased opportunities for success. This additional income also contributes to our economy by raising the families’ disposable and taxable income,” the lawmakers said.  They further pointed out that H-1B workers and their families are most successful when their spouses have the ability to contribute to their household income and economy, and the freedom to use their skills and pursue their goals.

As a majority of H-4 spouses are women, the lawmakers observed that their inability to work would widen the existing gender pay gap. The letter said: “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.”

They also said that 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.

“While our immigration system certainly needs reforms—including fixes to the employment and family backlogs that keep H-4 spouses from transitioning to permanent residency—depriving spouses who live in the U.S for decades of work authorization is not the way forward. We urge you to maintain the rule allowing certain H-4 spouses work authorization,” the lawmakers wrote.

From May 2015, when the rule was implemented, to December last year, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services approved 126,853 applications for employment authorization for H-4 visa holders. This number includes 90,946 initial approvals, 35,219 renewals, and 688 replacements for lost cards. Over  100,000 H-4 visa holders have been beneficiary of this rule.

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