It’s not an easy time to be an immigrant working on an H-1B visa in the U.S. It could be about to get a lot worse. The visa program used by several industries to bring skilled foreign workers — many of them Indian citizens — to the U.S. is facing potential curbs under President Trump. Their partners and children could be next in the line of fire.
Until 2015, H-4 visa holders – who often had skill levels comparable to their spouses – were not allowed to work. In 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that some H-4 visa holders, whose spouses were on track for permanent residency in the U.S., would be able to work. As per this initiative, spouses of H-1B visa holders waiting for green cards were eligible to work in the U.S. on H-4 dependent visas, thanks to a rule introduced by President Obama. Indian women are overwhelmingly the recipients of H-4 visas; about 180,000 of them are currently eligible to work.
However, under Trump administration, H-4 visa holders, who are concerned that their ability to continue to work could be rescinded by the Trump administration, got a 180-day reprieve from layoffs when the government filed for additional time to ponder its next move.
At issue is a 2016 lawsuit filed by the organization Save Jobs USA against the Department of Homeland Security, which contends that H-4 visa holders – the spouses of H-1B holders who are on track for legal permanent residency – take jobs from U.S. workers. An earlier lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Washington, D.C., who found that giving work authorization to certain H-4 visa holders did not unfairly impact the American work force.
Chicago, Ill., attorney Tejas Shah, who leads Franczek Radelet’s immigration practice and co-chairs the South Asian Bar Association’s immigration panel, told India-West that – in his law practice – he has seen a lot of concern about the overturning of the H-4 rule. He noted a leaked executive order issued by the White House which sought to eliminate the program.
“There is definitely a school of thought in the Trump administration that the program is unnecessary. Will that express itself in policy?” he queried. Shah notes that he has seen H-4 holders attempt to switch their visas to H-1Bs, which is difficult as it requires the sponsorship of a U.S. employer, and luck in the lottery system which allocates the coveted visas.
DHS was initially granted a 60-day abeyance in the case; the government filed a motion April 3 to extend the abeyance “to allow incoming leadership personnel adequate time to consider the issues.” DHS said it had concluded – during the first abeyance – “that it is appropriate to actively reconsider whether to revise the H-4 rule through notice-and-comment rulemaking.”