Trump Administration Has Plans to Wipe Out Work Permits for H-1B Spouses

Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle, Nvoember 17, 2017

The Trump administration plans to stop granting work permits to spouses of H-1B holders, overturning a 2015 rule and affecting thousands of foreigners currently in the United States, according to sources who have spoken to The Chronicle about the move.

About 130,000 spouses and children of H-1B visa holders came to the U.S. on H-4 visas last year, a number that has been steadily increasing since 2012. Before President Barack Obama created a work permit for certain H-4 visa holders in 2015, these foreigners — often women — were not allowed to hold a job here or be issued a Social Security number.

From October 2015 to September 2016, 41,526 people received authorization to work under the program. Complete figures for the most recent fiscal year, which ended in September, are not yet available.

The impact on the Bay Area could be outsized. Silicon Valley heavily relies on H-1B visa holders to staff technical positions; Facebook has so many it is deemed “dependent” on the visa by the government. Many brought spouses with them on H-4 visas. In recent years, those spouses have been able to seek work — a key economic support in a region where it’s difficult for families to get by on one salary.

Losing the H-4 work authorization may have a domino effect, as couples may be less inclined to stay in the U.S. if both cannot work, said Emily Neumann, an immigration attorney.

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But critics of the program say rescinding the work permits will help preserve American jobs.

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Immigration experts have widely expected the administration to end the H-4 work authorization since President Trump took office — especially in light of a recent motion filed by government lawyers in the Save Jobs USA case that cites the president’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. That order requires reviews of existing immigration policies in the interest of protecting American jobs.

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The majority of H-4 visa holders are women who decided to come to the U.S. with their spouses to keep their families together, and perhaps start their own path to permanent residency. An H-4 visa holder is only eligible for a work permit if their spouse has been approved for a green card.

This work authorization is particularly helpful for spouses from India and China. Because of the high numbers of immigrants seeking permanent residency in the U.S. from those countries, the wait for a green card for Indian and Chinese nationals can be more than a decade. Doug Rand, former assistant director for entrepreneurship in the Obama White House who helped implement the H-4 work authorization rule, said the Obama administration created the regulation to help “Americans-in-waiting.”

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