More than 70,000 immigrants working in the US are possibly staring at job loss in the near future, a majority of them Indians. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently told a federal court that the government's move to rescind work authorisation to certain categories of H-4 visa holders is in the final stages. These visa holders are mostly spouses of H-1B visa holders. The previous Obama administration under an executive order in 2015 had started giving work authorisation permits to certain categories of H-4 visa holders.
Before that, spouses could not be employed while H-1B visa holders sought out permanent resident status-a process that can take a decade or longer. The Trump administration is now planning to terminate this provision, which has so far benefitted more than 100,000 H-4 visa holders.
The Trump administration yesterday told the court that once the proposal is cleared through the DHS, it will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review under Executive Order for regulatory and planning review. The final notification to rescind the work authorisation is expected to be issued in June.
According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, as of June 2017, USCIS had granted 71,287 initial (versus renewal) employment authorisation documents to H-4 spouses, 94 per cent of whom were women. Of this figure, the vast majority - a whopping 93 per cent - were from India and 4 per cent were from China.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 130 US lawmakers led by influential Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal urged the Trump administration to continue granting work authorisation to certain dependent spouses of non-immigrant workers holding H-1B visas. According to them, this helps US employers recruit and retain highly-qualified employees, putting US policy on par with other countries - including Canada and Australia - that are competing to attract talented foreign nationals.
"Many are on the path to permanent residency and would already be permanent residents if not for the decades-long employment backlogs. Rescinding the rule will hurt the competitiveness of US employers and the US economy, as well as H-4 accompanying spouses and their families," they said in a letter to the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
So, why is the US government even contemplating reversing on its previous stand? According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Francis Cissna, such action would comport with the executive order requirement to "propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance, if appropriate, to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system". He had reportedly said this in a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley last month, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump's Buy American Hire American policy.
But as Anirban Das of Skilled Immigration in America, an advocacy group, previously told Firstpost, "Unemployment has been at its lowest in years so it's impossible that an insignificant percentage of the population is taking jobs away from Americans. If that were true, then there would be a crisis for every college graduate in America."
In any case, this is bad news indeed for the many Indian spouses currently working in the US.
With PTI inputs