H-4 visa EAD, F-1 visa OPT: White House plans to take “comprehensive look” at it

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NEW YORK: Is the White House planning to eliminate the H-4 visa Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and reduce the length or make major changes to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) period for international students on F-1 visa?

Going by the comments of the White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, the Trump administration will be giving ”a comprehensive look” at those issues, which is squarely on the hit list of anti-immigration advocates.

The Obama administration had granted EAD to some spouses of H-1B visa holders, with no strings attached. Those H-4 visa holders who got an EAD were allowed to work in any industry, take up a job of their choice if they were to get one, or even start a business at the same time, if they wished to.

The OPT for F-1 visa students got a huge boost, after the Obama administration extended the OPT for some STEM graduates to as much as three years. More international students have been flocking to the US, especially from India, in the last couple of years.

Anti-immigration advocates have been putting pressure to revoke the EAD for H-4 visa holders, and to reduce the time frame of the OPT to one year or to even eliminate it altogether.

Their argument is that H-4 visa and F-1 visa holders are taking jobs away from Americans.

On Thursday, at his daily White House press briefing, Spicer made it clear that the Trump administration is going to take a comprehensive look at both the H-4 visa and the F-1 visa issues, without elaborating. He also didn’t give a clear-cut answer on whether the Trump administration might put new rules in place to regulate the H-1B visa before the April 1 deadline for filing petitions.

Here’s the full transcript of the question put to Spicer and his answer.

And then, secondly, does he have any plans to revamp the H-1B visa program by the April 1 deadline?

SPICER:  I think we’ve talked before about immigration as a whole.  I think there is the legal part of immigration and then the illegal part of immigration.  The President’s actions that he’s taken in terms of his executive order and other revamping of immigration policy have focused on our border security, keeping our country safe, our people safe.  And then, obviously, whether it’s H-1B visas or the other one — spousal visas — other areas of student visas, I think there is a natural desire to have a full look at — a comprehensive look at that.  He discussed the RAYS Act yesterday with Senators Perdue and Cotton.  We’ll have more on that coming forward.

But I think as the readout mentioned, he was very supportive of their efforts with respect to how we view legal immigration.  He mentioned it in his joint address that we’re one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t use a merit-based system of immigration, and that is something that we need to look at in its totality.

It’s not a coincidence that Spicer’s remarks on the H-4 EAD issue and the F-1 OPT issue is coming at a time when the US Justice Department is weighing its next moves in a federal lawsuit brought by Save Jobs USA that challenges a 2015 rule extending EAD for some H-4 visa holders.

That case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The question being deliberated upon is whether the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to permit some H-4 visa holders, spouses of H-1B visa recipients, to be given work authorization or not. The underlying theme being that H-4 visa holders take away jobs with EAD which they were not entitled to when they were granted legal status in the US.

A decision on that case is likely after April 3, 2017.

Anti-immigration advocates have lambasted the Obama administration for extending the OPT for some F-1 visa students as they say that erodes jobs in the STEM arena for Americans. They says that US employers are happy to employ F-1 visa students at low salaries and exploit them, and fire American workers.

Some former Obama administration officials are now raising their voice against the policies of the Trump administration.

In an interview, Nisha Desai Biswal, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, cautioned the US not to clamp down on the H-1B visas, as it would hut Indo-US relations.

“The issue of H1B and the rhetoric that has been flying around all of that, I think is going to be a source of tension,” Desai said in an interview to PTI.

“We can all agree that the H-1B program has been an important and necessary program to help both, US and foreign companies meet shortages in high skilled workers. And that this has therefore brought much benefit to the American economy, and to the communities of which these companies both US and foreign operate,” she said.

“Rather than having those difficult conversations, what I find very regrettable is a scapegoating and a demonizing of a certain program in a certain category of work, as being the reason why there are job losses, or why there is economic stagnation in certain parts of the country. Because these, you know, foreign workers are coming in and taking our jobs. I find that offensive. I find that disturbing,” Desai said.

The larger issue seems to be how much the Trump administration want to restrict the ability of the legal immigrant population to grow in the US. If they clamp down on the ability of H-4 visa holders to work. They perhaps need to understand it’s also a humanitarian issue as many skilled workers would be wary of working in the US on an H-1B visa knowing that their spouse would not be able to do so for a long time, perhaps for decades given the logjam at pr3esent in the EB2 and EB-3 visa for transitioning to a Green Card status.

Also, the US education industry would face a slump as international students, especially from India and China, would be inclined to study elsewhere like Australia, New Zealand, Canada or European Union where chances are brighter of finding permanent residency if they decide to stay on and work.

The Trump administration might go along and harm the interests of H-1B visa holders, H-4 visa holders and F-1 visa holders. But likely regret it later as the US slides down the index of countries attracting the brightest talent from around the world.