US govt could terminate work permits for H-1B visa holders' spouses; move to impact over 63,000 Indian families

Washington: The Trump administration is planning to end allowing spouses of H1-B visa holders to work legally in the United States, a top federal agency official has told lawmakers, a move that could have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Indians. The move to end the Barack Obama-era rule could have an impact on more than 70,000 H-4 visas holders, who have work permits.

H-4 is issued to the spouse of H-1B visa holders, a significantly large number of whom are high-skilled professionals from India. They had obtained work permits under a special order issued by the previous Obama administration.

A file image of US President Donald Trump. AP

A file image of US President Donald Trump. AP

Indian-Americans were a major beneficiary of this provision. More than 100,000 H-4 visa holders have been beneficiary of this rule. A 2015 rule issued by the Obama administration allows work permits for spouses who otherwise could not be employed while H-1B visa holders seek permanent resident status -- a process that can take a decade or longer.

The Trump administration is planning to terminate this provision. A former communication is expected to be made later this summer, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Francis Cissna said in a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley.

"Our plans include proposing regulatory changes to remove H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation, thereby reversing the 2015 final rule that granted such eligibility," Cissna said.

He said such action would comport with the executive order requirement to "propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system ... " As with other revisions to regulations, the public will have an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period, Cissna said.

Indians at the receiving end

According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, the US has issued employment authorisation documents to more than 71,000 spouses of H-1B visa holders, over 90 percent, or over 63,900 of whom are Indians. "As of June 2017, USCIS had granted 71,287 initial (versus renewal) employment authorisation documents to H-4 spouses," the study that was released last week said.

Of those H-4 spouses with work authorisation as of early 2017, a total of 94 percent were women, and the vast majority, 93 percent, were from India, while four percent were from China, the study said.


Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 20:00 PM

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