The Trump Administration says that it is planning to revoke the eligibility of certain H-4 visa holders to seek employment or to hold a job in the United States.
For decades, although H-4 visa holders were allowed to live with their H-1B spouses in the United States, they could not work or obtain a Social Security number. This is where a Las Vegas immigration law firm can help.
HOW WERE THE RULES FOR H-4 VISAS CHANGED IN 2015?
But in 2015, the Obama Administration extended eligibility for employment to the H-4 dependent spouses of those H-1B visa holders who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status – a green card – in the United States.
Currently, qualified H-4 dependent spouses need to file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) with supporting evidence and a filing fee to obtain a Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Under the current rules, an H-4 dependent spouse may work or seek work in the U.S. after USCIS approves the Form I-765 and issues the EAD.
At least, that’s how it has worked since 2015.
WHAT IS THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S PLAN?
But in April, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicated that USCIS is moving forward with a plan by the Trump Administration to eliminate employment authorization for H-4 visa holders, although no date has been proposed or set.
USCIS director Lee Cissna told the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, “our plans include proposing regulatory changes to remove H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorization, thereby reversing the 2015 final rule that granted such eligibility.”
USCIS has granted over 100,000 employment authorization documents to H-4 visa holders since the rule was changed in 2015.
WHO IS OPPOSING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S PLAN?
One libertarian think tank – the Cato Institute – strongly disagrees with the Trump Administration’s plan. Their senior immigration policy analyst, Alex Nowrasteh, told CNN that the plan is “shortsighted.”
Nowrasteh said, “Money earned is money spent. It increases economic output, economic growth and more jobs for more people in the U.S.”
“Immigrants are typically attracted to growing regions and they increase the supply and demand sides of the economy once they are there, expanding employment opportunities,” Nowrasteh told CNN.
Nowrasteh also insists that H-4 visa holders are not taking jobs from anyone here in the United States. That view directly contrasts with the view of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has said that authorizing employment for H-4 visa holders “hurts American workers.”
The Department of Homeland Security has additional plans for other changes to the H-1B visa program. One proposal would narrow eligibility for the H-1B visa “to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals.”
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS OF H-4 VISA HOLDERS?
That’s lofty rhetoric, but the fears and concerns of visa holders like Alpa Gajera are somewhat more down-to-earth.
Gajera, a native of India, is in the U.S. with an H-4 dependent visa. Her husband is a Canadian software engineer who holds an H-1B visa and has been waiting for a green card since 2012.
In 2015, when employment eligibility was extended to H-4 visa holders, Gajera invested almost all of the couple’s assets to obtain two Rising Roll Gourmet Café franchises in Atlanta.
Business has flourished, and all six of Gajera’s employees are U.S. citizens. She plans to open two more outlets, but if her authorization to work is revoked, all of those plans will screech to a halt.
“I’m very concerned,” she told CNN.
Somewhat different fears and concerns are emerging for an immigrant doctor – an allergist in New Jersey – who may have to stop treating hundreds of patients. She asked CNN not to reveal her name.
“I’m not taking away a job from a U.S. citizen because there’s already a shortage in my specialization,” she said. “There’s already an ongoing shortage of allergists in the country at a time when allergy-related conditions are increasing.”
WHAT HAS ACTUALLY CHANGED?
At the moment, however, except for some pronouncements from Trump Administration officials, nothing has actually changed for H-4 visa holders.
It is important to stress that no “official” policy change has been announced.
Existing EADs (employment authorization documents) are not being revoked. USCIS is still approving EADs for H-4 visa holders, and it is still renewing their existing EADs.
H-1B visas are offered to international workers with specialized knowledge. In the U.S., they are hired as programming analysts, software engineers, and scientists.
WHAT CAN H-4 VISA HOLDERS OFFER?
Many of their spouses hold professional degrees and in fact qualify for similar positions. Prior to 2015, the prohibition on employment for their spouses – H-4 visa holders – created, in effect, a vast pool of wasted talent.
If the 2015 policy change is reversed – and H-4 visa holders are again prohibited from working or seeking employment – every U.S. citizen will again be deprived of the H-4 visa holders’ important talents and skills.
HOW CAN AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER HELP?
Should H-4 visa holders attempt to switch to an H-1B or to some other visa? While no one should act in haste or in panic, it is a good idea for H-4 visa holders to review and consider their options.
H-4 visa holders and their employers should not hesitate to seek the insights and advice of an immigration lawyer.
Legal complications almost always arise in immigration-related employment matters, and employers must have someone they can trust to provide accurate answers to their immigration questions and concerns.
A good immigration attorney can also review an employer’s records and policies and provide advice about visas, visa petitions, and employer compliance.
WHAT IS THE ONE CERTAINTY REGARDING IMMIGRATION?
If you hire international employees to work for your company in the United States, or if you hold an H-4 or an H-1B visa and you have any questions or concerns regarding your visa or status, obtain the sound legal advice that an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney can provide.
It remains to be seen whether or not H-4 visa holders will be allowed to work in the U.S. in the future.
The one certainty, however, is that immigration is changing, and that every employer and visa holder will need accurate and up-to-date immigration advice. Do not fail to get the help and advice that you need.