Govt protests US plan to end work permits for spouses of Indian workers

Suresh Prabhu, Commerce and Industry Minister
The government has protested to its American counterpart on reported plans there to end work permits for spouses accompanying Indian professionals.

“We have communicated to them that Indian companies have actually helped the US economy and brought more productivity to the US,” said Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday.

Speaking at the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in India, the minister said discussion with the US on the issue was an ongoing one. A significant number of spouses of Indian professionals in the US are employed under the H-4 EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) visa issued by the government there.  It currently allows spouses of H-1B holders to work legally. Many are also in line for the ‘green card’, the permanent resident permit. 

According to a report by, an immigration reform advocacy group, the move could hit up to 80,000 individuals, “This policy is important because it allows certain individuals to secure gainful employment without having to wait for their spouses to receive permanent residency, many of whom are experiencing a processing backlog of more than a decade,” the group said in a recent report.

The H-4 programme currently allows an estimated 100,000 people to work in the US, According to the same report, roughly 80 per cent of H-4 visa holders are women, with the same percentage being from India. Without this work authorisation rule, these individuals also stand to lose the means to pay taxes, though they are supposed to under certain circumstances.

Spouses apart, the professionals themselves remain uneasy. This visa category is classified as a non-immigrant one; it allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Major US-based technology companies disproportionately depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from India and China.

While the US started accepting applications for H1-B visas on April 2, the conditions remain tough. “On the one hand, the number of available slots has not been reduced as we had feared but the paperwork has substantially increased, while evaluation processes have become far more stringent,” said a senior functionary from the National Association of Software and Service Companies.

The US Department of Homeland Security had suggested in 2017 that H-4 work permits be rescinded. Earlier this week, a letter dated April 4 from L Francis Cissna, director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, to the US Senate’s committee on the judiciary had surfaced, showing the government was officially mulling on the plan.

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