International Women’s Day is not turning out to be happy for thousands of Indian-American women in the United States who currently hold the cherished Employment Authorization Document — which they describe as their ticket to freedom and equality.
A case is making its way through U.S. courts initiated by the group Save Jobs USA which claims that the EAD for spouses of H1-B visa holders is taking away jobs from American workers. The non-profit organization Immigration Voice has filed a motion in D.C. Circuit court to intervene on behalf of thousands of its members on an H-4 visa who have EADs.
“Does this have to happen today – to tie my hands on this women’s day?” questions Neha Vyas, who got her EAD this November and landed a job on Feb. 22, with a company in Washington, D.C., that designs environmentally sustainable buildings. “It’s amazing to be free and do something to save the planet and give to this country where I live. Here I am helping to make buildings more efficient and environmentally friendly, and now have to think about possibly packing up and leaving,” Vyas said. “I feel like they will make me a prisoner again – no driver’s license, no social security number, no bank account of my own, no financial independence.”
Her employers were so impressed when they found her that they asked Vyas, “Where were you. It was difficult for us to find someone like you.” Vyas told them she was not allowed to work. “My employer called that “a bizarre rule”,” Vyas recalled.
On Feb. 25, 2015, the Obama administration issued a rule through the Department of Homeland Security, allowing some of the spouses of H1-B visa holders who are on H4 visas, to work. Almost immediately after this rule was issued, Save Jobs USA filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that the Obama administration lacked the authority to issue work authorization for spouses of H-1B holders. The District Court granted summary judgment to DHS, holding that Save Jobs USA lacked standing to sue and upholding the rule in favor of H4 visa holders.
Last month, Save Jobs USA filed its initial brief for its appeal with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Department of Justice filed a document on February 1, entitled “Consent Motion to Hold Proceedings in Abeyance for 60 Days,” to “allow incoming leadership personnel adequate time to consider the issues.” The Immigration Voice motion is intended to counter any threats to EAD holders once the 60 day pause is over near the end of March.
“I felt like The Phoenix rising when I got my EAD,” Neha Mahajan, a senior manager in an IT services company in New Jersey. “I waited close to 8 years and I will never forget the date August 20th, 2015, when I got my EAD. It changed my life. From simple things like the way I dress or talk, the way to how I handle family issues, my work. It changed my entire persona,” Mahajan said. The case lodged by Save Jobs USA, she felt, was not “ethical.”
“First you invite someone to your country to work, then you don’t give their spouse the right to do it. Why can’t H4s also have a merit-based system?” Mahajan questions.
Meghna Damani, one of the leaders on the successful H4 visa-holders’ campaign to get the EAD, remembers her days on the H4. While she is now up for citizenship within days, she said, she is extremely worried about her friends and the whole movement to secure the right to work.
“It’s like pulling the rug from under your feet. You have dreams for your family and the future,” Damani said. “I remember I felt like a human being again when I got my EAD. I was valued for my skill, my home life became happier,” she said. For those who say H4 visa holders should be happy that they are not in the situation of many less fortunate, “What do you mean by ‘fortunate’? Just having a home and food to eat is like what any animal could also have. “We are human beings. We want to create value,” Damani said.
Thirty-two-year old Mughdha Risbud from Bethel, Conn., got her EAD in December 2015. A technology management graduate, Risbud said revoking the EAD will “jeopardize” her career. “It feels so worthless and helpless to not be allowed to work in spite of being qualified,” Rishbud said. “There is no personal growth, its tough financially as well as emotionally.”
“There is this view that H4s are not as educated, or there’s this feeling they take away IT jobs. But we are very varied – from accountants to bakers, to engineers. The H4 EAD gives all these people the ability to work and change people’s lives,” Mahajan said.