H4 EAD: USCIS chief signals it's end of the road for H4 work permits; tighter rules on H1B payscales coming soon

Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Francis Cissna, in a three page letter dated April 4 to the US Senate Juiciary Committee, has confirmed it's the end of the road for H4 workers' employment authorisations in Donald Trump's administration. Calling the letter an "update" on USCIS' effort to ensuring integrity of the immigration system, Cissna goes into great detail on employment based immigration programs and the associated spouse visas.

Cissna also says changes are coming soon to the H1B lottery system and the "definition of speciality occupation" is set for a reboot. H1B visas allow US businesses to employ "high skilled" foreign workers but concerns have grown over the years about the interpretation of these multi-step definitions. This is clearly an area where the USCIS has been digging and its concerns came to the surface in a recent call with potential H1B applicants ahead of the lottery season for the new fiscal beginning 1 October 2018. In the letter, Cissna also reveals that targeted site visits will begin at L1 worker sites too. Until now, the USCIS has been focusing heavily on what it calls "fraud and abuse" in the H1B program.

USCIS chief Francis Cissna. Reuters

USCIS chief Francis Cissna. Reuters

With midterm elections looming in November, Donald Trump is keeping immigration firmly in the headlines. Day after day, week after week, Trump's Homeland Security chief Kristjen Nielsen is pushing for closure on many of Trump's pet agenda items on immigration. Already, think tanks and fact tanks advocating for low immigration are rejoicing, claiming it will be a "huge motivator for American high-tech workers to come out and vote”.

H4 visa holders were not allowed to work for pay in America until the Obama government changed the rule in 2015. Within weeks, anti immigration groups filed a case challenging the concession and that case continues till today. Meanwhile, the Trump administration indicated late last year that it intends to revoke the work permit for H4 spouses setting off alarm bells across the community in America and family members in their home countries.

Cissna covers H1B, H4, H2B and L1 visas in his letter to Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Much of the letter's content focuses on recent policy updates and includes crucial guidance on what's to come for H1B apart from the high level of regulation already in place. Cissna states that the Department of Homeland Security will soon propose new rules to ensure that employers pay "appropriate wages to H1B visa holders."

Spouses of H1B workers on H4 visas are coming to grips with the news. "We're shaken", says one of them in New Jersey who just landed a job a week ago after many months on the hunt. Her H4 EAD is stamped until 2020. It's unclear whether any potential rule change will have a retrospective effect. We will be speaking to the USCIS and updating on this issue.

Those stuck on the H4 EAD roller coaster are in for a serious round of stocktaking. "We'll have to decide whether we are okay with staying on the US despite being unable to work...can we deal with that for a prolonged period or do we want to pack our bags. The time has come. We've had enough of this drama", says Ritu Talwar from Austin, Texas.


Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 04:23 AM

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