More than 100,000 H4 dependent spouses in the US got work permits in the last 3 years

More than 100,000 (H4) dependents of H1B workers who have been allowed to pursue paid employment in the US from 2015 will be hit hard if rules change early next year when an important case comes up for hearing in Washington D.C. soon after the New Year rings in.

Latest numbers available from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services  show that the United States has so far given employment authorisation documents to 104,750 H4 visa holders (spouses/ dependents of H1B workers) since 2015 when the floodgates first opened.

Link: Employment authorization for certain H4 dependent spouses, final rule effective May 26, 2015

In the last three years, USCIS has approved employment authorisation for 26,858 applicants in 2015 followed by 41,526 in 2016 and 36,366 until June end this year.

 More than 100,000 H4 dependent spouses in the US got work permits in the last 3 years

How will the courts interpret Trump's EO in the H4 case? / Reuters

The data outed does not adjust for how many of these H4 EAD recipients may have changed status or left the country but a conservative estimate based on green card and citizenship figures indicates that the variance won’t be sharp.

The immigration wave specific to H1B visa workers which began 30 years ago is littered equally with stories of how H4 dependents forgo many of their prime years of earning potential. Some grin and bear it, some return to India or try to head across the North American border to Canada.

For those with families who don’t have much elbow room to explore these multiple choices, the H4 visa was stifling before Obama’s parting gift of the EAD. Running a family unit on a single income in the US is an uphill task, given the multiplicity of taxes that H1B workers pay.

Predictably, news that a certain category of H4 visa holders could be eligible for work authorisation was recieved with great celebration in the US. The resistance came with equal fervour - the same mix of social and economic unrest that Trump tapped into a year later.

The Obama era loosening of regulations which allowed dependents of H1B workers to work in the US has been challenged in court by Save Jobs USA an anti immigration group drawn from former employees of Southern California Edison. They filed a lawsuit against the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and were turned out in the first go. Refusing to budge, Save Jobs USA appealed.

The case is now pending before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and in its latest avatar, it appeals to the very sentiments that put Trump in the White House - outrage against the outsider.

"It (H4 EAD) should be upheld because it helps the U.S. economy and also gives freedom to the dependent spouse to pursue their dreams," says Vinod Belani, an Indian techie in Washington D.C.

But Save Jobs USA does not think that's the way to proceed.

Their case has not changed one bit since they first filed but its latest appeal has coincided with Trump’s rise in American politics. Time and again, the US President has found that when ambitious policy decisions go badly in Congress, a chunk of red meat flung to the fringe crowd always helps to keep his core vote bank thirsting for more. The RAISE Act (Bill) was sprung when the Obamacare repeal was going nowhere. Anti immigration talk in the Trump White House has followed a pattern since January this year. With the midterm elections approaching and with every failed policy move or praise for Mueller's investigation, expect more fiery talk on outsiders in America.

Since February this year, The Trump government has been putting off contesting the lawsuit and instead pushing out the hearings by asking for more time. Dig through the files of the SAVE Jobs USA versus DHS case file and you'll find the latest intervention from the USCIS has been about how to interpret the case through the lenses of the Buy American Hire American Executive Order.

Now, although this EO is wide in scope to cover several industries and themes, focus on the H1B has been particularly intense, just going by even routine communication from the Trump administration. To get a sense of the resources being thrown at the H1B case, one look at this often tweeted page is enough.

Updated Date: Nov 30, 2017 04:33:48 IST