Indian spouses on edge as Trump administration wants to revoke H-4 EAD policy, voice fears

The Donald Trump administration is potentially out to revoke the Obama-era H4 EAD rule, which extended employment authorisation to certain dependant spouses of the H-1B holders seeking a lawful permanent resident status.

Written by Nandini Rathi | New Delhi | Updated: January 27, 2018 12:13:54 pm
employment authorization card for legal aliens The H-4 EAD rule enacted in 2015 allows the spouses of H-1B holders to seek gainful employment, with renewals of employment authorisation permitted as often as H-4 visa is renewed.

A blessing bestowed and withdrawn is worse than a blessing never had. As February approaches, a tense countdown is underway for a large number of Indian families in the United States currently in the queue for acquiring a Green Card. In recent days, tweets have been pouring in to various American senators and to the public at large to save the H-4 EAD and understand the plight of those who would be affected. “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization” is how directly the US Department of Homeland Security worded its intent in its Fall 2017 regulatory agenda, sounding alarm bells in the homes of several US-based Indian professionals.

In other words, the Donald Trump administration is potentially out to revoke the Obama-era H4 EAD rule, which extended unrestricted employment eligibility to certain H-4 visa holders, that is, dependant spouses of H-1B holders seeking a lawful permanent resident status. This could happen as early as next month. If acted upon, it is unclear if this would revoke the already issued H-4 EADs — but, in all likelihood, may prevent renewals in future.

The H-4 EAD rule enacted in 2015 permits the spouses of H-1B holders to seek gainful employment, with renewals of employment authorisation allowed as often as H-4 visa was renewed. It came as a huge blessing and a relief to a number of spouses — majority of them women — who often found themselves stuck in a country full of opportunities that they were by and large locked out of, on account of their visa status. 

Barring a few who are extremely qualified, usually in STEM areas, the question of skilled employment which is intimately connected with a working individual’s sense of self esteem, identity and independence would ring empty for a number of well-educated, qualified wives on the H-4 status. After decades of wait and advocacy, in May 2015 they became eligible for an H-4 EAD, which made it possible for them to re-seek a life of dignity and respect and which inspired families to realistically dream of a jointly fulfilling life and a household supported by two incomes. Just as many started availing themselves of it and prepared to re-enter the job market or set up small businesses, the status of the provision has come under jeopardy.

The numbers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website reveal that by June 29, 2017, a total of 104,750 H4 visa holders had received their employment authorisation documents (EADs). The number is likely to have grown considerably since then.

While a few will be in a position to go back to university and hereby switch to the F-1 student visa — college education in the US is not always a feasible option, is highly expensive and far from a guarantee for securing an H-1B, especially in non-STEM areas. As the following personal accounts of US-based Indian H4 EAD holders reveal, the revoking of the provision could be a major destabilising factor for families:

‘The only option will be to leave the country’

“My wife and I both have Masters degrees in computer science and came to the US on our independent visas in 2008. In 2015, my green card process was messed up by the consulting firm that held my H1-B VISA. I was left out of status and obviously had to quit my job. Thankfully, around the same time, my wife’s I140 was approved and I could submit an application for the H4 EAD on the the same day that they started accepting applications. Just the year before, we had bought a house, so the EAD proved to be a blessing. I was able to get a job based on the EAD.

“At this point, we both are highly skilled with more than 12 years of experience in the US Property and Casualty Insurance Industry, pay more than $14,000 in property taxes, pay the federal and state income taxes every year, and have a baby coming in April 2018. If the EAD is repealed, I would not be able to switch to H1 since I haven’t been out of the country for a year after my six years on H1B were done and we would definitely not be able to survive on just my wife’s income. The only option will be to leave the country, because I definitely do not want to sit at home without working.”

– Amit H

‘It will destroy my career even after acquiring a Master’s degree in the US’

“I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and work experience of two years in Tata Consultancy Services working for Bank of America. I have been here in the US for four years now. I have also completed my Masters degree in Industrial Engineering from California State University East Bay University at Hayward, California. My spouse got the amazing opportunity to work for Alcatel Lucent, now acquired by Nokia in his dream role as a Network Engineer. As much as I wanted to support him and my family, it definitely got frustrating as I was deprived of my ability to work and in the process lost my identity and confidence by just staying at home. I could not make use of my education or experience and contribute to the society. It was a huge relief when then President Obama created the rule H4 EAD which allowed the spouses of legal aliens who are in the queue for green card to work/be independent.

“This created a huge difference in my life and my family. I decided to continue my studies, acquired my EAD in 2016 and completed my Master’s in 2017. Since my completion, I have been looking for full-time jobs and that is when the Trump administration decided on canceling H4 EAD.

“I went on many interviews at many reputed companies. Many interviewers told me that because of the ongoing news on repealing H4 EAD they weren’t comfortable giving me a full-time position. We bought a home to give a secure place for our child to grow up in. But if I don’t have an income we may have to reconsider our plan and give up on owning a home. The Trump administration has proposed in their fall agenda 2017 to repeal the H4 EAD, which if approved would force me to stay at home and will destroy my career even after acquiring a Masters degree in the US. It would be horrifying to go through the guilt of not being able to support my family financially. My spouse is in green card queue right now and it will be years before he gets it. And it will be too late for me to even consider going back to the workforce after such a long gap, not to mention that I will have already lost my prime time. The unemployment rate is at a low 4.1 per cent, I am only contributing to the economy for its growth.”

– Anonymous

‘This situation has made us lose faith in America’

“I came to the US on a Dependent visa in 2013. I was really excited about starting my life in this country, setting up my home and exploring various places for the first few months. Slowly I began to miss my career that I had earlier. I am a M.S. degree holder in Telecom & Software Engineering and worked for 5 years in a Telecom company with constant rewards and recognition for my contribution at work from my team and the clients. I began to understand the curse we H4 dependent visa holders have upon us. Sometimes I have felt like leaving this country so that I can continue my career but I believe that a family should live under one roof, so I convinced myself to it, sacrificing my career.

“When the H4 EAD law was passed in 2015 I was very happy. After finishing up with certain family commitments, I eagerly applied for it and got my H4 EAD in April 2017, only to hear that it is going to be revoked. I am deeply saddened by this. We are also sidelined by the green card backlog. I used to believe that this amazing country will provide me with great opportunities and I can contribute to its economy with the education and experience I have but now this situation has made us lose faith in America, a country that we accepted as our home, and has added uncertainty and insecurity in our lives.”

– Aruna Subbaih

The personal accounts have been made available courtesy Swapna Jayachandran, San Francisco Bay Area resident and H4 EAD holder, who is currently leading advocacy efforts on- and offline in her community to save the dependent spouses’ right to work.

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