Washington 06 May 2018 (Hindustan Times)
More than 30 US lawmakers from both parties have signed a letter circulating around Capitol Hill urging the Trump administration to “reconsider” its decision to rescind a 2015 regulation that allows spouses of certain H-1B visa holders, the bulk of whom are from India, to work.
The Obama-era work authorisation, H-4EAD, has “made our economy stronger, while providing relief and economic support to thousands of spouses—mostly women—who have resided in the United States for years” said the letter initiated by Indian American member of the House of Representatives Pramila Jayapal and colleague Mia Love.
More lawmakers are expected to sign the letter before Wednesday, May 9, when it will be sent to Kristjen Nielsen, secretary of the department of homeland security, which oversees the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that announced this year that it had decided to rescind the Obama-era programme.
In all 33 lawmakers had signed the letter so far, according to a note sent by the initiators to other members seeking their support and signatures.
The aim was “to protect the interest of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system”, USCIS director Francis Cissna told a US senator, quoting from the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued by President Donald Trump just weeks after he took office in 2017.
There was no response from the White House to a request for comment to emerging demands to not scrap H-4 EAD, that have found support in multiple quarters and have been endorsed and echoed most importantly by leading American IT companies and their trade bodies.
Jayapal and Love sought to invoke the larger good these work authorizations do for the American economy arguing in their letter it helps US employers to attract, recruit and retain highly qualified employees, as was the intended purpose of the regulation issued by the Obama administration in 2015.
Also, they added to bolster their case, the spouses are themselves “highly educated and have tremendous potential to contribute to our society and economy”.
H-4 EAD (EAD stands for Employment Authorization Document) allows spouses of H-1B visa holders in line for permanent residency (Green Card) , not all H-1B visa holders, to work while waiting for their Green Cards, which for Indians could take up to 70 years, according to one count.
An estimated 1.5 million Indian H-1B visa holders are in line for Green Cards currently. Their waiting period is the longest and gets worse every year because of a country-cap that adds to the backlog. Work authorization for their spouses was aimed at making the wait less arduous, and thus act as an incentive. Many of those in the queue have built lives and businesses in the US, and in most cases, their children are US citizens.
Till June 2017, an estimated 105,000 of their spouses had been granted H-4-EAD, according to USCIS data cited by the lawmakers in their letter. The Obama-era regulation was challenged in a court by Save Jobs US, an organization comprised of and representing IT workers displaced by H-1B workers, in 2016. It lost. But its appeal has fared better, finding support from the US justice department of the Trump administration. But as the court case continued, the administration declared its intention, in December 2017, to do away with the regulation altogether, citing President Trump’s executive order to protect American jobs. It doubled down on it in a formal communication in January, with an entry in the Federal Registry, the US equivalent of the Indian Gazette.
Still, the administration has appeared less resolute in this than it would appear. It skipped an earlier announcement deadline and has sought to broad-base the debate saying whenever the rule change is notified, ample opportunity would be given to the public to respond, or, in other words, to oppose it.