Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 January 2020

Trump's visa rules to hit Indian spouses

H-4 visa changes disproportionally affect Indians working in US, data show

US President Donald J. Trump waves as he walks to the Oval Office during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2018. Shawn Thew / EPA Photo
US President Donald J. Trump waves as he walks to the Oval Office during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2018. Shawn Thew / EPA Photo

The Trump administration has ramped up its efforts to keep jobs in the hands of American workers, confirming the end of a right for spouses of foreign workers to find full-time employment.

An announcement on Friday that spouses on H-4 visas will be prevented from working will overwhelmingly affect Indian women, according to data from the Congressional Research Service of the US Congress.

Mr Trump's reversal of an Obama-era decision that allowed H-4 visa holders - since 2015 - to work is part of a larger suite of moves against immigrants, which includes a ban on travellers from five predominantly Muslim countries and a plan to wall the United States off from Mexico.

The announcement will increase the ability of the US government's immigration agency and its justice department to share information and "to stop employers from discriminating against US workers by favouring foreign visa workers," John M. Gore, an acting assistant attorney general, said on Friday.

The official statement noted that a law barred companies from preferentially hiring foreign workers, who are often cheaper to pay. "An employer that prefers to hire temporary foreign visa workers over available, qualified US workers may be discriminating in violation of this law," it said.

The H-4 class of visa is given to the spouses of foreign workers, who are employed in the US under an H-1B visa. Until the Obama administration changed the law, H-4 visa holders were not permitted to work full-time. As of December, roughly 130,000 people on H-4 visas had obtained their employment permit.

The 2015 law change was challenged in court by groups such as Save Jobs USA, who argued that American workers faced increased competition from H-4 candidates for a limited number of jobs.


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Mr Trump initiated a review of the 2015 law shortly after he came to the White House. In April, the president’s executive order, "Buy American and Hire American" cleared a path to reversing the law altogether.

In its demographics, the effects of Mr Trump’s decision will impact the Indian-American community heavily.

A Congressional report on the H-4 visa scheme released last week showed that roughly 93 per cent of H-4 visa holders are from India. One-fifth of these live in California, where their spouses on H-1B visas are, for the most part, employed in the information technology industry.

Five per cent of H-4 visas have been given to Chinese citizens, leaving only two per cent from other countries.

The data is skewed by gender as well. Ninety three per cent of H-4 visa holders are women.

For India, the data reveals a familiar story. For decades, and particularly since the tech boom in the late 1990s, Indian men have been sent to the United States on H-1Bs, these work permits sponsored by the American arms of their Indian companies. These workers on long stints abroad would visit home briefly to get married, and then return to America with their new wives.

The women in these marriages have frequently been highly educated professionals in their own right, said Kavita Vatsa, who runs a Mumbai agency that consults on visa applications for Indians headed to the US.

"You'll see doctors, or teachers, or even software professionals - all really skilled," Ms Vatsa said.

"But inevitably, after they moved to the US, they weren't allowed to work on their H-4s. And finding an American employer who will sponsor a new H-1B for you is not easy at all."

Updated: May 12, 2018 06:30 PM