H-4 EAD: Lawmakers press incoming administration to renew H-1B spouses’ right to work

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In a move that would greatly favor the high-skilled Indian immigrant workforce in this country, sixty Capitol Hill lawmakers have come forward to urge the Biden administration-in-waiting, to renew the H-4 Employment Authorization Document.

The H-4 EAD, which many Indian immigrant spouses called their lifeline to a normal existence, was passed in the waning days of the Obama administration.

For the thousands of spouses with higher education degrees languishing at home, introducing the EAD by end of 2015, was the best new year gift for the following year.

But over the years of the Trump administration, some changes made to the H-4 EAD and threats of its termination, have led to heartache and trepidation within Indian immigrant families, and especially for women from India.

“We write to request that you provide immediate relief upon assuming office to the many families adversely impacted by significant delays in the processing of work authorization documents (EADs) for people on H-4 visas,” begins the recent letter from the sixty lawmakers who include the four Indian-American legislators, Reps. Ro Khanna, D-California, Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, Ami Bera, D-California, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois.

“I was proud to join with my colleagues in urging the incoming Biden administration to extend the work authorizations for H4 visa holders to ensure that these individuals, many of whom are highly-skilled women, will be able to work and help strengthen our economy,” Congressman Krishnamoorthi told News India Times.

“Since its establishment in 2015, the H4 EAD program has made important progress in rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system through allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally work in the US,” Krishnamoorthi noted.

“Despite the Trump Administration’s attempts to sabotage the H4 EAD system, the program has still contributed to the vitality of our economy and the wellbeing of numerous women and families of H-1B holders. For these reasons, I urge President-elect Biden to extend H4 visa work authorization and support the program, continuing the work he began to support H-1B families in the Obama Administration,” Krishnamoorthi said.

The letter to President-elect Biden notes that “These delays in EAD renewals are causing lapses in work authorization and job losses affecting many people, mostly women of color, in our districts,” the letter addressed to President-elect Joe Biden says.

It requests the Department of Homeland Security to publish a Federal Register notice extending the validity period of all expired H-4 EADs on day one of the Biden administration which steps in Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration day. That would allow time for US Citizenship and Immigration Service to resolve outstanding processing issues.

Back in 2015, after several years of advocacy by community members, including various South Asian women’s organizations, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US.

Once an H-1B holder is sponsored for employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (otherwise known as a green card) his or her H-4 visa-holding spouse may apply for work authorization.

“This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system as around 95% of H-4 visa holders who have secured work authorization are women,” the lawmakers said.

“Before the rule was granted, many women on H-4 visas described depression and isolation in moving to a new country and not being allowed to work outside of the home,” the lawmakers note.

These women on H-4 visas work in a variety of fields including as essential healthcare workers, including in research and development roles at pharmaceutical companies.

“… these women play tremendously important roles as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter says.

The signatories of the letter expressed confidence that the incoming Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security will rectify the systemic processing issues that have been created by the current Administration.

“Unfortunately, women are and will continue to lose their jobs until this is put right, disrupting the lives of their families and the functioning of employers in our districts,” they add.

The Trump administration had threatened to do away with the H-4 EAD, and make significant changes to the H-1B visa that allows high skilled immigrants, mostly from India, to come to this country. Observers consider it was part of an effort to reduce immigration to this country.

Experts however, and the technology and other industries, have argued vehemently against changes to the program, contending that the high skilled workers added to the U.S. economy rather than hurt American workers.

“The H-1B and H-4 visas issue is very important in many ways because many spouses wait years and years for husbands/wives to get the green card. This could be a lifetime of work wasted as it can be a 30-year wait,” immigration attorney Prakash Khatri told News India Times.

“So, having a spouse here not able to work for a whole lifetime, is totally unacceptable,” Khatri said.

He also noted that many Americans do not understand that with one spouse on an H-1B earning from $50,000 upwards, and the H-4 EAD spouse getting a job that pays even as low as $15 an hour, the tax rate becomes much higher, thus benefiting the American economy.

“So, from a tax revenue perspective, it’s a tremendous benefit to this country, as it would be much higher than what another American with one job would be paying to the government,” Khatri pointed out.

Khatri also pointed to another anomaly – whereas H-1B visa holders do not require an EAD, the spouse on an H-4 visa does need that document in order to seek work and get employment.

Overall, Khatri argued, “There should be no reason why H-4 spouses or even adult children of H-1B visa holders applying for the green card, should not be allowed to work, since it was a win-win situation for the U.S. economy.”

 

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