H4 visa holders may stop getting EAD if Trump issues Executive Order


NEW YORK: The hard-fought success almost two years for those on the dreaded H4 visa – dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders – when some of them were finally allowed to get work authorization after successfully applying for an EAD card, may again be grounded.

Numerous reports have surfaced recently that President Donald Trump may issue an Executive Order to ban the issuing of EAD (Employment Authorization Document) to H4 visa holders.

Ninety percent of H4 visa holders are women, and almost 80% of the 125,000 H4 visas issued in 2015 – the year they were allowed to apply for work authorization – were granted to Indian nationals.

Even after the rule was passed in May, 2015 for H4 visa holders to get work authorization, only some of them benefited: only those whose spouse working on an H-1B visa had got an approved Form I-140. The rest had to wait their due turn to be allowed to work in the US.

The strongest evidence of impending doom for H4 visa holders came from the White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said at a press briefing on Monday: “With respect to H1-Bs and other visas, it’s part of a larger immigration reform effort that the president will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”

He then added, for emphasis, to specifically add the work spouses in there: “whether it’s that or the spousal visa or other types of visas I think there’s an overall need to look at all these programs,” referring to “a lot of action on immigration.”

“You’ll see both through executive action and through comprehensive legislative measures a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa program,” he added.

The plight of H4 visa holders who languish for years without the ability to work, has been well documented, in the past. It’s often been referred to as a humanitarian issue.

Sabrina Balgamwalla, an assistant law professor at the University of North Dakota, wrote in a paper on spousal visa holders titled ‘Bride and Prejudice’: “When a wife enters the United States on a dependent spouse visa, she enters at the wish of her husband. Her dependent immigration status allows her husband to control her ability to live in the United States and all rights that stem from that status.”

Divya Ravindranath, a PhD student at Washington University in St Louis, writing of the plight of H4 spouses, in Economic & Political Weekly, noted: “Women interviewed for this study used phrases like “loss of identity,” “complete dependence,” “lack of confidence,” “forced unemployment,” “a nightmare” to describe their experiences and the implications of the H4 visa. For many women, the idea of being “unemployed” after securing high educational qualifications and prior work experience has been akin to living an anonymous life. In the absence of professional opportunities women complained about being wrapped in domestic responsibilities and moments of self-doubt, with no avenues for intellectual or social interactions…the H4 visa has taken away more than the “money-making capacity of H4 spouses —it also suppresses their ability to meaningfully function in society by restricting their ability to participate in daily transactions with third parties.”

Despite this, there has been plenty of ire against granting EAD to H4 visa holders.

In early 2015, the Immigration Reform Law Institute filed a lawsuit in D.C. District Court against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of Save Jobs USA — a group that is comprised specifically of former Edison employees who lost their positions to H-1B visa holders. Their target was H4 visa holders.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute claimed work permits to H-4 visa holders negatively impacted the former Edison workers who lost their jobs to foreign workers.

That rhetoric was carried forward by Sen. Jeff Sessions and by other anti-immigration critics. Sessions, when confirmed as the Attorney General of the US, will be in position to implement many of his views into law, either through Executive Actions by President Trump or by convincing members of Congress to bring in legislation to that effect.