The Trump administration has telegraphed since early 2017 its intention to remove a path for early employment eligibility for spouses of H-1B visa holders.
This move took a step forward in late October with the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in the administration’s Fall Unified Agenda for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
What’s at issue
While H-1B visa holders arrive in the U.S. with a job, their spouses are unemployed and need to apply for a green card so they can seek work. The wait for a green card can stretch from six years for those with “extraordinary ability” to well past a decade for those with bachelors and advanced degrees.
This lack of a second income was a problem for the families of many H-1B visa holders as well as U.S. employers who needed the expertise their spouses brought to the U.S. with them.
In 2015, the Obama administration created the H-4 visa for spouses of H-1B visa holders who had been approved for work but whose green cards had been held up by backlogs or red tape.
Since 2015, more than 104,000 H-4 visas have been approved.
A smaller labor pool
In April, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that put these visas into doubt. The order, titled “Buy American, Hire American,” implied an end to the H-4 visa program.
The reasoning was simple: The DHS reasoned that although employers of H-4 visa holders will suffer turnover, American-born workers will have a better chance at getting the jobs because the foreign-born spouses will be out of the labor market.
What will happen
Experts predict not only financial turmoil for the families of H-1B visa holders as they attempt to manage life in the U.S. on one income, but also psychological difficulties as women from traditionally repressed societies are again dependent on their husbands for money, food and transportation despite their advanced degrees.
U.S. companies with global reach have sent letters asking DHS not to change the visa program, citing the historic number of job vacancies and small labor pool. Other business leaders have said workers from countries such as India might be more inclined to work in countries where are fewer restrictions on their spouses.