The U.S. government has confirmed that effective May 26, 2015, some holders of the H-4 visa, who are spouses of high-skilled workers on the H-1B visa, will be eligible for work authorisation, a potential boon for approximately 179,600 individuals in the first year alone.
The announcement that H-4 visa holders, whose spouses are applying for a “green card,” that is, seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status, will be eligible to work in the U.S. comes on the back of a lengthy campaign, including several articles in The-Hindu that highlighted the plight of those facing mental health issues and other challenges after realising they could not work in the U.S.
The move has particular relevance to India, as 76 per cent of the 96,753 people who received an H-4 in 2013 were from South Asia, many from India, a natural consequence of the fact that a large proportion of H-1B visas are also given to Indians.
Underscoring that an estimated 55,000 H-4 spouses will be eligible to apply in subsequent years, South Asian Americans Leading Together, a key community organisation here said that it welcomed the move, but that it was only the “first step,” as it limited work eligibility for H-4 visa holders to only those whose spouses were in line for a green card.
Spelling out the details this week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Department said that finalising the H-4 employment eligibility was “an important element of the immigration executive actions President Obama announced in November 2014,” and the move aimed to “modernise, improve and clarify visa programs to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs.”
Recognising the intra-familial tensions created in many cases by the earlier denial of the right to work for H-1B spouses, USCIS Director León Rodríguez said the move “provides more economic stability and better quality of life for the affected families.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) added that it expected this change would “reduce the economic burden and stress on H-1B non-immigrants and their families during the transition from non-immigrant to lawful permanent resident status.