Immigration Law Blog

Monday, April 23, 2018

Members of Congress Fight to Save Work Authorization for H-4 Visa Holders

By Kalpana Peddibhotla and Roujin Mozaffarimehr

Last month, 15 members of Congress from California signed a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to reconsider the agency’s proposal to revoke work authorization for certain H-4 visa holders.

Key signatories included Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat from Southern California who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, and Ro Khanna, all Democrats who represent the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, also signed the letter, along with Rep. Barbara Lee and Jerry McNerney, who represent portions of the East Bay Area tech corridor.

The Congress members noted, in its letter, that attaining an employment-based green card can take several decades. “The Department of Homeland Security extended eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses because it recognized the economic hardship facing the families of many H-1B workers who needed dual incomes to survive in high-cost areas.”

In many areas where these high-tech professionals live, such as Silicon Valley, it is nearly impossible for a family to live on one income,” noted the letter to Nielsen. “The H-4 rule lessens the burden on thousands of H-1B recipients and their families while they transition from non-immigrants to lawful permanent residents, by allowing their families to earn dual incomes,” stated the Congress members adding: “Many entrepreneurs used their EADs to start businesses that now employ U.S. citizens. Eliminating this benefit removes an important incentive for highly skilled immigrants to remain here to invest in and grow our economy to the benefit of all Americans.”

On Jan. 17, AILA joined several organizations to send a letter Lee Francis Cissna, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, urging the agency to continue work authorization for H-4 dependent spouses. The writers noted that in 2016, there were approximately 3.3 million STEM job openings posted online. By contrast, in that same year, U.S. universities graduated just 568,000 students with STEM degrees.

“To meet this job demand, it is vital that we not only provide STEM education and training to more U.S. children, workers, and college students, but that we also recruit the top talent from U.S. universities and from abroad. The H-4 rule is instrumental in allowing U.S. employers to fill these critical positions with qualified professionals,” wrote the signatories to the letter.

H-4 visa holders whose spouses are on track for legal permanent residency, gained eligibility for work authorization in May 2015, after a multi-year battle. But the Trump administration announced last year that the program – which currently benefits about 100,000 people, primarily women from India – was on the chopping block. The administration has clubbed its decision on rescinding work authorization to a lawsuit by Save Jobs USA, which contends that the program negatively impacts American workers.

DHS entered a court filing Feb. 28 stating it would not issue a decision terminating work authorization for H-4 visa holders until June, because it needs time to review the economic impact of terminating the program.

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