US may stop spouses of H-1B visa holders from working

RSTV Bureau

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The Trump administration is considering revoking an Obama-era rule that allows the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the US. The move could affect thousands of Indian workers and their families in the US.

According to US Department of Homeland Security, the changes are being made in light of President Trump’s ‘Buy American and Hire American’ order issued earlier this year.

The H-1B programme attracts foreign specialised workers to come to the United States for employment, many of them from India and China. India accounts for 70 per cent of all H-1B workers in the US and the Trump administration’s plans to overhaul the specialised visa has caused alarm in India.

Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B or high-skilled visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the US on H-4 dependent visas, under a rule introduced by the previous Obama administration.

In 2016, more than 41,000 of H-4 visa holders were issued work authorisation. This year until June, more than 36,000 H-4 visa holders were issued work authorisation.

“DHS is proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation,” said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a latest regulation.

According to CNN, while changing the rule wouldn’t prevent spouses of H-1B holders from pursuing other avenues for work authorisation, it could deter a number of high-skilled immigrants from staying in the US if their spouses can’t easily find work.

“This announcement places into jeopardy thousands of hardworking, contributing individuals who have started their own businesses—and often have US citizen children—who will needlessly be forced to revert to a status of inactivity,” Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who worked for the Obama administration, told the daily.

The Department of Homeland Security also mentioned plans for other changes in the H-1B visa program. They include revising the definition of what occupations are eligible for the program “to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals”, CNN said.

The Obama-era rule allowing spouses to work already faces a legal challenge. A group called Save Jobs USA filed a lawsuit in April 2015 arguing that it threatens American jobs.

The H-1B is a common visa route for highly skilled foreigners to find work at companies in the U.S. It’s valid for three years, and can be renewed for another three years.

(With inputs from agencies)