Ending H-4 work permit has greatest impact on South Asians: Report

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A Chicago-based think tank which focuses on South Asians, confirmed the contention of Indian-American and other immigration activists that rescinding work authorization for H-4 visa holders disproportionately impacts immigrant women and families from South Asian countries.

SAAPRI flyer/email relating to its online survey launch on H-4 visa holders. (Photo: South Asian American Policy & Research Institute)

The South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI) in a report released July 15, noted the Feb. 20, 2019, proposal from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to remove “H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorization.” It has been under review for months with an uncertain decision date.

The report, Defying Dependence, was the result of SAAPRI’s survey of more than 100 South Asian H-4 visa holders, dependent spouses of H-1B workers, the press release from the organization said. It also includes in-depth profiles of 6 women on the H-4 employment authorization document (EAD) from different parts of the U.S.

The report is coauthored by Dr. Amy Bhatt, author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration.

According to SAAPRI’s findings, since the adoption of the H-4 work authorization policy in 2015, 93% of all H-4 EADs were granted to South Asians and 93% were granted to women.

Dhara Puvar, executive director of SAAPRI, is quoted in the press release asserting, “Our findings reveal that the H-4 EAD rescission is a racial, economic, and gender justice issue.”

Puvar said the current immigration policy is “inequitable for those seeking citizenship and belonging in the U.S from select countries.”

The think-tank said its findings show that revoking the H-4 EAD would have a detrimental impact on economic independence for women, as H-4 visa holders could remain unemployed for up to 10 years or more without the EAD.

Defying Dependence also delved into how the ability to work is closely tied to mental health outcomes for H-4 EAD holders and their families.

It cites the example of one of the H-4 EAD holders identified only by her first name, Urvashi, quoting her saying, “[The H-4 EAD] policy change was a life-giver to many women like me who were stuck at home, with no life of their own or sense of purpose.”

“Our hope is that SAAPRI’s data can be used to support advocacy efforts to protect the EAD and drive evidence-based comments to USCIS during the public comment period that will open once the proposed rule change is published to the Federal Register,” said immigration attorney Tejas Shah, a SAAPRI Board member.

The report calls for the protection of H-4 work authorization and a Congressional solution to the Green Card backlog that will ensure that the H-4 EAD program does not remain a stop-gap solution to current immigration hurdles.

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