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The Trump administration again signals it will scrap work permits for H-1B spouses

Ananya Bhattacharya
L. Francis Cissna

The Donald Trump administration just won’t go easy on H-4 visa-holders.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reiterated that it plans to scrap the provision allowing H-4 visa-holders to work in the country.



“…our plans include proposing regulatory changes to remove H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation, thereby reversing the 2015 final rule that granted such eligibility,” Lee Francis Cissna, director of the USCIS, wrote in an April 04 letter to Charles E Grassley, chairman of the judiciary committee of the 115th Congress. “We announced this intention earlier this year in the semiannual regulatory agenda of the department of homeland security (DHS).”

Cissna wrote the letter after DHS deferred issuing the draft proposal to restrict work permits for holders of H-4 visas—dependents of the H-1B visa-holders—from February to June 2018.

For decades, H-4 visa-holders lived in what some called the “golden cage.” Though they could live in the US, they couldn’t work or get a social security number. Then, in 2015, the Barack Obama administration allowed a section of H-4 visas holders, whose spouses were awaiting green card approval, to seek work permits of their own.



Now the Trump regime’s decision could have an outsize impact on Indians, the largest beneficiaries of H-4 visas, who hold nearly 80% of the 125,000 issued in 2015 alone. Women would especially suffer considering they account for nine in ten H-4 visas issued.

What’s more, the US government is unlikely to stop at just the H-4.

Bigger problem

Cissna reiterated in his letter that the various work visa classes that let immigrants live and work in the US were being reworked.

Over the last year, the Trump administration has taken several steps to make it harder for professionals to get the much sought-after H-1B visa. For instance, the criteria to allocate computer programmers’ visas were made stricter, paperwork required for H-1B approval has been increased, and the premium processing for the category has been temporarily suspended.

These attempts to bring jobs back to the US are costing immigrants dearly. Indian techies, who account for most H-1B applications (pdf) each year, are the worst hit.

According to his letter, besides the H-1B and H-4, the USCIS is also tightening its noose on the L-1B visa, issued to professionals with specialised knowledge for up to three years which can then be renewed for another two years.

“USCIS is also expanding its administrative site visit program to include L-1B petitions. We are initially focusing on employers petitions for L-1B specialised knowledge workers who will primarily work offsite at another company or organisation to ensure they are complying with the requirements,” Cissna wrote. “These requirements were meant to help prevent US workers from being displaced by foreign workers.”

 

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