Indians on H-4 visa fear financial ruin for family if EAD taken away

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NEW YORK: In 2016, a total of 131,051 new H-4 visas were stamped by the Department of Homeland Security. In comparison, four years before that, in 2012, only 80,015 H-4 visas were given.

Last year, for the first-time ever, some H-4 visa holders were eligible for Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allowed them to get a job, and gave a new sense of identity to their life and helped their family prosper. In turn, the US economy benefited too.

Now, there’s a likelihood the Trump administration might revoke that EAD for H-4 visa holders. Get them back to square one: not allowed to work, and allowed to work only as an unpaid volunteer. They can study, get a degree, but that’s it. Still, they won’t be allowed to work. More than anything else, it would be a huge psychological blow, and cause terrible depression, to say the least.

If the Trump administration takes away the EAD from working H-4 visa holders, it could spell financial doom not just for some individuals, but for entire families too.

CNN interviewed some Indians on H-4 visa.

Ketaki Desai, 35, who has an EAD as a H-4 visa holder, has been working for the past 15 months as executive director at a startup incubator, eCenter@LindenPointe, in Pennsylvania.

Desai has been in the U.S. for nearly 15 years and has navigated several other different visas, including the F-1, OPT and H-1B. While on student visas, she created several startups but ultimately couldn’t pursue them full-time due to visa restrictions.

Her husband, whose employer first put in for his green card in 2008, is still waiting to receive it due to the backlog for Indian nationals.

Desai said the idea of being on a dependent visa bothered her at first, to CNN.

“I’m more qualified than my husband; I was making more than he was,” said Desai, who holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

“I can truly say that it changed my life and most definitely for the better,” she said, of Obama administration’s decision to give her an EAD.

“You can make all this impact, yet in one fell swoop, everything can be taken away from you,” she said on the possibility of the EAD taken away from her.

Some H-4 holders have gone nearly a decade in the U.S. without being able to work, while others were on the visa for only a year before the work authorization became available under Obama. But those 12 months “felt like a whole lifetime,” Neha Vyas, an H-4 holder working as a sustainability consultant in Washington, D.C., told CNNTech.

Aseem Talukdar, an associate professor of physics and astronomy in Kentucky, said his life will be “miserable” if the Trump administration revokes the employment authorization rule for H-4 holders.

His wife, Plabita Chetia, spent two years unable to work on the H-4, and the couple now has two sources of income. His wife is using her degree to work as a part-time occupational therapy assistant. It helps them make ends meet and support their five-year-old daughter.

Talukdar declined to discuss specifics about his financial situation. But should the rule change, “for a low-paid teacher, it will be like a death sentence.”