Over 60,000 spouses of Indian H-1B visaholders may soon go jobless; updates

H1B visa
Soon, the spouses of H-1B visaholders might not be allowed to work legally in the US. The Trump administration is planning to propose to end giving work permits to the spouses of H1-B visa holders to work legally in the US, a top federal agency official has told lawmakers, a move that could have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Indians. A formal communication is expected to be made later this summer, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Francis Cissna said in a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley. "Our plans include proposing regulatory changes to remove H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation, thereby reversing the 2015 final rule that granted such eligibility," Cissna said.

According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, the US has issued employment authorisation documents to more than 71,000 spouses of H-1B visa holders, over 90 per cent of whom are Indians.

The Trump administration's move to end the Obama-era rule could have an impact on more than 70,000 H-4 visas holders, who have work permits. H-4 is issued to the spouse of H-1B visa holders, a significantly large number of whom are high-skilled professionals from India. They had obtained work permits under a special order issued by the previous Obama administration.

Indian-Americans were a major beneficiary of this provision. More than 100,000 H-4 visa holders have been beneficiary of this rule. A 2015 rule issued by the Obama administration allows work permits for spouses who otherwise could not be employed while H-1B visa holders seek permanent resident status -- a process that can take a decade or longer.

The Trump administration is planning to terminate this provision.

Here are the top 10 developments around Trump administration's move to end work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visaholders:

1) H-1B visaholders' spouses to lose work authorisation: The USCIS director has told lawmakers that the Trump administration is planning to end allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders from working legally in the US. The move to end the Obama-era rule would have an impact on more than 70,000 H-4 visas holders with work permits.

2) When will the work authorisation for H-1B visaholders' spouses be done away with? No concrete date is available as of now. However, the USCIS director's letter provides an estimate. A formal communication is expected to be made later this summer, according to USCIS Director Cissna’s letter to Senator Chuck Grassley.

3) Work authorisation rule being removed from June this year? There is some information indicating the work authorisation rule will be removed in June or after. In March this year, the Trump administration had delayed its decision on the termination of work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visaholders, in what was a big relief to a significantly large number of Indian workers and their families.

At that time, in a court submission, the Department of Homeland Security had said that it would not take a decision on terminating the work authorisation of H4 visa users, spouses of H-1B visaholders, until June, as it needed time to review the economic impact of such a decision.

4) What Obama-era rule is Trump trying to undo? The previous Obama administration had started issuing employment authorisation, or work permits, to the spouses of H-1B visa holders in 2015. The spouses or dependents of H-1B visaholders come to the US on H-4 visas. Before 2015, they were not authorised to work in the US. Indian-Americans were a major beneficiary of this provision.

5) Indians will be the worst hit: Trump's move to end work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visaholders will hit India workers in the US the most. The US has issued employment authorisation documents to spouses of more than 71,000 of H-1B visaholders, over 90 per cent of whom are Indians, a report has said.

"As of June 2017, USCIS had granted 71,287 initial (versus renewal) employment authorisation documents to H-4 spouses," the Migration Policy Institute said in a report. "Of those H-4 spouses with work authorisation as of early 2017, 94 per cent were women, and the vast majority, 93 per cent, were from India; four per cent were from China," said the Institute, which obtained the information from US Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Freedom of Information Act, which is similar to India's Right to Information Act.

6) 'IT industry's dependency on visas to decline further': The tightening of visa rules come at a time when Indian IT companies, which used to be major beneficiaries of the non-immigrant visa programme, have cut down their dependency with the coming of Trump. In an interview with Business Standard, Nasscom Chairman and Wipro Chief Strategy Officer Rishad Premji had earlier said: "Certainly, the consumption of visas by Indian IT companies has come down substantially. It can be less than 20,000 on a base of 85,000 (H-1B) visas available every year. So that number has come down quite substantially and will continue to come down as companies localise and build strong local workforce tapping them from the college level."

7) Trump urged to retain work permits for H-1B spouses: US lawmakers from the Silicon Valley have urged the Trump administration to retain the Obama-era rule allowing H-1B visa holders' spouses to work legally in the US.

8) H-1B visa application process began from April 2: The US Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting petitions for H1-B visas for the financial year 2019 (beginning October 1, 2018), from April 2.

9) H-1B cap petition premium processing suspended until September: The USCIS further announced the suspension of premium processing for all H-1B petitions, subject to the annual caps. According to the federal agency, the suspension of premium processing for all H-1B visa petitions subject to annual caps is expected to last until September 10, 2018. "We will notify the public before resuming premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions or making any other premium processing updates," it said.

10) Request to expedite H-1B petitions subject to caps allowed: The USCIS said that while premium processing was suspended, a petitioner could submit a request to expedite an FY 2019 cap, subject H-1B petition, if it met the expedited criteria.

It is the petitioner's responsibility to demonstrate that he or she meets at least one of the expedite criteria, and we encourage petitioners to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request," the federal agency's official site said, adding: "We review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and will grant requests at the discretion of USCIS office leadership."

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