Last year, the Obama administration changed the immigration regulations to allow certain spouses of temporary skilled workers in the United States to obtain permission to work. Under the prior rule, spouses of H-1b workers were prohibited to work.
This produced a real hardship on the families of H-1b workers and made little economic sense.
Congress has placed strict numerical limits on the number of employment-based green cards available each year. There is both an overall cap and a per-country cap. This means that H-1B workers from populous countries, such as India and China, can wait years or even decades for their green cards. Under the old system, their spouses couldn’t work that entire time.
The Department of Homeland Security sought to change that last year when the spouses of H-1B visa holders who have started the process of obtaining an employment-based green card were allowed to request work permission.
Rashi Bhatnagar is a journalist from India. She is married to an H1b holder and was “shocked” when she learned that American law prohibited her from working in the U.S. without her own work visa.
She started a Facebook group called “H4 Visa, A Curse” which now boasts over 15,000 members. She has a related blog that has over 5,000 readers.
Bhatnagar and other spouses of H-1b holders lobbied for the change. She conducted a survey on her blog and discovered that 99 percent of these H4 spouses held a bachelor’s degree or higher, 83 percent were between the ages of 26 and 35, and 95 percent were women. Their professional backgrounds include medicine, engineering, education, architecture, accounting and law.
So the rule changed, but an interesting thing happened. Only 37 percent of eligible H4 workers have actually applied for work permission.
According to DHS, as many as 179,600 H-4 spouses would be eligible to apply for work permits. To date, however, only 66,571 applications have been filed and 58,232 approved. That’s about 37 percent of the eligible population.
Some explain it is because of fear over a legal challenge to the regulations; others have been out of the work force for so long that they worry about their employability.
Here’s hoping that more people take advantage of this H-4 work authorization program. It is good for them and good for America.