Final countdown to crucial H4 visa decision

Coast to coast in Trump-led America, suspense is building over the fate of work permits handed to H4 visa holders in the fag end of the Obama years and the signals have been bleak so far. The court case on which the decision hinges - Save Jobs USA versus Department of Homeland Security, is fast approaching a crucial hearing date on the other side of the New Year.

Related link: What did Kevin J Cummings, Chief of Foreign Workers Division, USCIS, tell the court?

San Francisco Chronicle from the US West Coast is quoting unnamed sources saying the Trump administration plans to stop granting work permits to spouses of H-1B holders. Unnamed sources are often problematic but in this particular instance, the dots are all connecting in a certain trajectory which is of more relevance here.

Testing times for spouses of H1B workers. Representational pic/ Reuters

Testing times for spouses of H1B workers. Representational pic/ Reuters

In mid-November, we reported here that the decision the H4 visa will be out end of the year.

A decision on this case is pending since February this year, in its latest appeal by plaintiffs Save Jobs USA that coincided with Trump’s rise in American politics.

Save Jobs USA is a group of former employees of Southern California Edison. They filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to block the Obama era regulation which allowed a certain cohort of H4 visa holders to get employment authorisation which they were earlier not entitled to.

A trial court dismissed the lawsuit and Save Jobs appealed.

The case is now pending before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Meanwhile, even in the short time that Trump has been President, the political game over visas and immigration has changed completely in America.

No matter what any number of polls say about Trump’s falling popularity, his core base is cheering him on with wild enthusiasm everytime he speaks of immigrants taking away jobs. The details really don’t matter to the Trump base, the difference between a H1B and a H4 are irrelevant here. The message found its mark back in November 2016, its messenger is in the White House and the author Stephen Bannon is back at Breitbart.

Coming back to the specific case of the H4 visa, the Trump government has been putting off contesting the lawsuit and instead pushing out the hearings by asking for more time over many months. In the latest intervention, the Trump team asked for time to reconsider the Obama era regulation with the lens of the Buy American Hire American Executive Order.

“The case is on hold but the outlook is not promising given the fact that the administration is not supporting the H4 rule being promulgaed by the Obama administration is not a good sign at all”, ace immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta told Firstpost.

Stakes are high on both sides of the aisle - Save Jobs USA is hoping for a Trump style putdown of the H4 visa's elevated status among spouse visas and acknowledgement that the original employment authorization itself was against the law.

For H4 visa holders who took up paid work on the strength of the Obama era rule, a negative decision will be a body blow. Unlike the commonly quoted figure of 85,000 visas per year in H1B stories, the cumulative numbers of H1B workers in the US and therefore, spouses on H4s, are in a different league. That's because H1Bs can be rolled over after a 3 year period and with every influx of new H1Bs each year, the earlier batch does not go away. Basis this layering, USCIS can approve more than 330,000 H-1B petitions each year, which includes extensions and amendments. As of April 2017, USCIS reported more than 680,000 approved and valid H-1B petitions.

As of June, the White House confirmed that there are 4 million Indians currently in the US, including students. Going just by this number and the number of approved petitions as on April 2017, the potential impact of a thumbs down for the H4 visa work permit has millions of Indian families in the US on edge.


Updated Date: Nov 28, 2017 04:47 AM

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