H-4 visa workers face loss of work and dignity

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NEW YORK – The American social reformer and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, said, fighting for voting rights for women: “We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.”

For immigrant women on an H-4 visa and work permit, they would hope even if they are treated atrociously like foreigners in a country they call home, denied voting, political rights, common decency and common sense would prevail when it comes to a basic human right like able to work, be allowed to contribute financially to family and society.

The Trump administration sees it differently, though.

They would rather exclusively give the right to work to those born in America, and to permanent residents. Under the current administration, work visas are harder to get. Those with work visas live an uneasy life, in trepidation of their immediate future. These workers are on tenterhooks every time they go overseas, not sure if they and family members would be allowed entry again.

For those on an H-4 visa – spouses of H-1B visa workers, overwhelming majority of them women – 100,000 or so of whom have a work permit courtesy of the Obama Administration, and have found work, the prospect of languishing jobless at home once again, in depression and anxiety, looms large. The Trump administration has announced plans to revoke that precious work permit, by end of this year, or early next year.

For an administration who swears by the Trump mantra of ‘Make America Great Again’ (with the words ‘For Americans’ missing in that slogan), it doesn’t matter if these H-4 visa holders are skilled workers; perhaps a doctor, engineer or scientist. They just want them to vacate a job, till they reach the status of a permanent resident, with a Green Card.

These H-4 visa women workers are slowly being herded together, lined up for the chopping block. These women face the prospect of work snatched one fine day without the office firing them, or having resigned. Trotting back home with the grim realization that her family is now in dire financial trouble, would not be able to afford that mortgage on a house bought recently with the assurance of two pay checks, or that new car, or a vacation to India.

Not so fast though, say some other women.

Like modern avatars of Anthony, several powerful women legislators in America are collectively raising their voice, to protest and condemn this modern subjugation by the Trump administration of women who don’t have a vote yet, try to help them live with dignity.

Democrat Congresswomen from California, Anna G Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, introduced in Congress last week a new bill, the H-4 Employment Protection Act, which seeks to prohibit the Trump administration from revoking the work authorization of H-4 visa holders who have a work permit.

“Protecting work authorization for these H-4 visa holders is a matter of both economic fairness and family unity,” Eshoo said, adding: “Eliminating this benefit would create a painful choice for many immigrants to either split up their families or return to their home countries and use their talents to compete against American businesses.”

Lofgren said: “These are American citizens-in-waiting, stuck in line for their number to come up. Prohibiting H-1B dependent spouses from working is of no benefit to our country, and if allowed to move forward, many of these families that can contribute so much to our workforce will simply move to countries with a more sensible approach to immigration. This much needed bill will block the Trump administration from needlessly harming our economy and the lives of skilled immigrant families.”

Eshoo and Lofgren’s move comes on the heels of a letter, written in September, by two Democrat Senators from across the country, Kamala Harris from California, and Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, which urged the Trump administration to desist from revoking the work authorization of these H-4 women workers.

“Rescinding the H-4 rule will result in significant personal hardship to women who will be forced to abandon their professional careers,” the two senators wrote in their letter. “Preventing women from engaging in employment can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and a loss of self-worth. Revoking a wife’s ability to work leaves her and her children entirely dependent on her spouse. Increased isolation — coupled with complete financial dependence — can make leaving an abusive relationship dangerous and, in some cases, impossible,” they added, urging the administration “to consider the economic, psychological, and personal harms that rescinding the H-4 rule will cause to more than 100,000 professional women, their families, and their American communities.”

Asserting that independence and equal opportunity are fundamental American values, they said the move by the Trump administration would be trampling upon the principles of America.

The Mercury News last week reported on the plight of H-4 visa workers. It quoted a woman living in Silicon Valley, Priya Yadav, a product manager at Comcast and an immigrant from India, talking of the debilitating impact the announcement by the Trump Administration has had on her life: “It’s like living in limbo,” Yadav said. “Every day I’m worried that I could wake up the next morning and not be able to go to work.”

The paramount question is: will all these gathering voices defeat the intent of the Trump administration, or would it be a lost cause, end up in heartbreak for the H-4 visa workers?

Melinda Gates had once remarked: “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.”

What about a woman without a job?

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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