In a move that may affect thousands of H-1B visa holders and their families in the US, the Donald Trump administration has started the process to ban work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders
On May 22, the US government issued a notice for the proposed rule-making that will kick in public consultations to ban the H-4 EAD (Employment Authorisation Document), a work visa programme launched by the previous Obama administration to leverage skilled spouses of H-1B visa holders and address skill shortage in the technology domain, the Economic Times said in a report.
While explaining its reasons for the proposal, the Department of Homeland Security wrote that American citizens would benefit “by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold”, the ET report mentioned.
Since 2015, nearly 1.2 lakh H4 EAD visas have been issued. Indians, largely female engineers, have been the biggest beneficiaries of this visa programme by taking over 90% of these 1.2 lakh visas.
The Trump administration had first indicated the scrapping of the programme in February last year. Even if this proposal goes through, it would take a while for it to actually take effect, said, policy watchers.
The ET report citing Rajiv S Khanna, managing attorney at immigration law firm Immigration.com, said it could take as much as a year for the visa programme to get scrapped.
“The process is currently at the second last stage. Once it is approved here, it will be posted in the federal register and people will have 30 or 60 days to post comments, following which the regulation will be made final,” said Khanna.
The administration is obligated to comment before publishing and implementing the final rule, a process that could take several months, he added.
Since Donald Trump became President in 2017, the US has tightened immigration rules across the board. The biggest that has affected India is the tightening of the H-1B visa programme for IT services companies in favour of US technology companies.
The US has brought in rules that give preference to candidates with US Master’s degrees for H-1B visas, helping US companies, while increasing the rejections for existing visa holders who seek extension for another three years. Nearly 70% of the H-1B visas are granted to Indian nationals.
Experts say a fallout of the scrapping of the H4 EAD visa would be a shortage of talent for US tech firms as these families are likely to return to India, she said.
While most tech firms have increased their local hiring in the US, it has been difficult to find people, given the low unemployment rates coupled with a shortage in the number of people with the kind of skills required. If an employee’s spouse can no longer pursue a career in the US, it would lead to more people turning down US postings, said analysts.