Welcoming US President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw a Trump-era rule rescinding work authorisation for H4 visa holders, who are spouses of those possessing H-1B work visas with majority being highly-skilled Indian women, a South Asian advocacy group has said it signals the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to supporting immigrant women workers.
An H-4 visa is issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the H-1B visa holders, most of whom are Indian IT professionals. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
The H-4 visa is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status in the US. Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew its proposal to rescind H 4 work authorisations.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on Monday said that the proposed rule titled, 'Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorisation,' was being withdrawn.
This means that more than 100,000 H 4 EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) recipients, the majority of whom are women of colour, keep their right to work. This move to preserve the programme signals the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to supporting immigrant women workers who play an essential role as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said on Thursday.
Despite this hopeful news, SAALT continues to hear from community members who have been adversely impacted by significant delays in the processing of H 4 work authorisation documents, it said in a statement. These people must be protected and the Biden administration must unilaterally extend the validity period of all expired H 4 EADs and resolve USCIS processing delays, SAALT said.
Hopefully, we will see these extensions come with the introduction of the Citizenship Act of 2021 in the coming weeks, SAALT said. It seeks to formalise work authorisation for H 4 EAD visa recipients, create an accessible and equitable pathway to citizenship (especially for undocumented essential workers) and commit to a structural transformation of our broken immigration system that addresses and resolves backlogs.
SAALT said that Biden and Congress must work together to pass clean immigration and essential worker bills. Meanwhile, FWD.us, a pro-immigration lobbying group, commended the Biden-Harris administration for taking immediate action to turn the page from the Trump-Pence administration's disastrous immigration policies and to do right by more than 100,000 hardworking immigrants who are contributing to the United States every single day in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
Allowing H-4 visa holders the ability to continue working and providing for their families has profound, life-changing effects for these individuals and our communities. Roughly 93 per cent are women and many are working in essential roles that are key to supporting our nation's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, said FWD.us president Todd Schulte.
Spouses of Indian professionals on H-1B visas, mostly women, are the biggest beneficiaries of the Obama-era rule that gave employment authorisation cards.
The Trump administration in 2017 announced that it would rescind that rule. However, the Republican Party-led Trump administration was not able to complete the process in the four years of its rule. During the presidential election, the Biden campaign had promised to withdraw the Trump administration's move.
In December, a group of 60 members of the US House of Representatives in a letter urged Biden to unilaterally extend the expiration work authorisation documents for holders of H-4 visas. In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US, the letter said.
This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system, as around 95 per cent of H4 visa holders who have secured work authorisations are women, FWD.us said. As of December 2017, the USCIS had approved 1,26,853 applications for employment authorisation for H-4 visa holders.
According to a 2018 report by Congressional Research Service (CRS), 93 per cent of approved applications for H-4 employment authorisation were issued to individuals born in India and five per cent were issued to individuals born in China. According to FWD.us, many H-4 visa holders are doctors, scientists and teachers, and are working in crucial industries that are key to the nation's response and economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Research shows that ending H-4 would damage the economy and cost jobs, with no clear benefit to other workers. "Expanding protections for spouses and children of temporary workers will help keep families together and keep the US globally competitive as we rebuild from the pandemic," it added.