There is breaking news everyday now on the H1B visa program, as immigration reform takes center stage in the Trump administration. There are several pending legislative bills in Congress, a much-anticipated executive order and most recently changes to administrative rules surrounding the H1B visa. One by one, the pillars that support non-immigrant work visas are being struck down.
Just following the suspension of the Premium Processing option for petitions, there is now a threat to the H-4 spousal visa which allows a spouse to work when their partner has entered the US on an H1B visa. The rule is being challenged as part of court case, and the Trump administration has decided to step in and be a part of the decision.
The H-4 Spousal Work Authorization as Part of the H1B Visa Program
To be eligible to work in the US, the spouse must have a valid H-4 dependent spouse visa related to the H1B visa holder’s status. The H1B visa holder must also be in the process of seeking employment-based permanent residency in the US, or a ‘green card’.
This visa has been especially important when the couple is waiting for green cards, but still need the extra income to meet cost of living in the US. This is especially important for couples with dependent children to support, who rely on a dual income.
The rule was put in place by President Obama in 2015, but it is now being challenged and reviewed by the Department of Justice. There has been a 60-day review period put in place to examine whether the rule should be overturned.
There are many thousands of workers currently on H-4 visas who could be affected, reducing income and affecting lifestyle choices with little notice. While Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the H-4 visa usage ‘hurts American workers’, there is little evidence to support the claim. The H-4 visa has been put in the same policy category as outsourcing firms, cheap foreign labor and loss of US jobs, and now even spouses of H1B visa workers are being demonized as undermining opportunities for US workers.
H-4 Visa Holders Are Not Only Employees, as Some Start Their Own Businesses
One of the main points used by advocates of the H-4 is that some visa holders start businesses that then employ American workers. If the existing rule is changed or revoked, those business owners would have to seek formal H1B visa status, which can be a challenge when your own business is the sponsor. Otherwise, their business will close and job losses will be the result.
Inform First, Then Reform
This illustrates the complexity of H1B visa reform, as constraints are placed on participation, qualifications or wage rules. There is little basis or information for some of these moves, but the reform movement plows ahead.
The law of unintended consequences is now in play, as some of the measures to protect US citizen workers may actually undermine job growth and the overall economy. While most of the outcry over Trump H1B visa actions comes from India (whose economy and skilled work force stand to lose the most), in truth the greatest impact may be right at home in the US as companies are unable to hire the workers that they need in technical arenas.
If the US workforce had all of the requisite educational and work background for technical positions, the H1B program would never have been started. Unfortunately, abuses by some companies is leading to a full-scale overhaul that is sure to have a lasting effect on US competitiveness.
- May 11th, 2017