Indian women on H4 visas eager to get back to work

Interviews with 4 women who can’t wait to take on jobs outside the house.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Reaction to the news that H4 visa holders could finally get to enter the workforce has been enthusiastic.

The American Bazaar spoke to four women, all of whom were forced to leave their homes and jobs behind in India to live in unemployment in the US. Now, on the cusp of possibly being able to work again – some after a gap of nearly a decade – the women generously shared their stories.

Shibiliy Shafeela has been a housewife for just about one year. She was employed by Tata Consultancy Services in India from December 2005 through January of 2010, at which point her husband came to the US for work, bringing her along.

Because her husband was brought over on an L1 visa, Shafeela came on an L2, allowing her limited work authorization for a period of three years. At the conclusion of that three-year term, she applied for an extension – that, however, was rejected in July of last year.

As a result, with no visa left to her name, Shafeela was forced to go back to India for a short period. She eventually returned to the US in September, but on an H4 visa, as her husband – who currently works for ABS Consulting – had been transferred to an H-1B visa. Because of her H4 designation, she has been unable to work, and is raring at the chance to get back into the workforce.

“I had to resign from TCS because of my visa, which won’t allow me to work here,” she explained. “But there were personal reasons behind it as well. I have a young son, who needed my attention because he was not well, so even if I had the authorization to work I’m not sure that I would have done so.”

However, Shafeela has several friends who have struggled with not being able to work under H4 designation, and said that although this new provision would only allow select H4 holders the ability to work, it’s a “a good first step” in the right direction.

Mary James was working for an insurance outfit in India from 2005-2007. She and her husband immigrated to the US when he came for work, employed by a division of Microsoft – him on L1, her on L2.

However, her husband’s division was acquired by another company, forcing his visa designation to change from L1 to H-1B, and causing James to become an H4 visa, dependent on her husband. For James, who had spent her first couple of months in the US working in Connecticut, the transition from a full-time work week to unemployment was jarring.

“It was really bad for me,” James, a mother of one, said. “After my priority date got pushed back as well, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to work for a very long time, if ever.” Understandably, James called the news of possible H4 work authorization “amazing.”

“I would like to work and help my family, and I like to use my resources to help with the betterment of this country,” she explained. “I personally would like to be working because it helps me and my surroundings grow, and I know I have a lot to contribute.”

One of the problems facing many H4 holders is that, having been in the US for so long with an H4 visa, they’ve been out of the work force for many years. H4 holders – the vast majority of which are women who accompany their husbands to this country – have had to transition from working women to housewives at the drop of a hat.

Such a problem faces Hema Raghunathan.

Raghunathan holds an M.B.A. from the prestigious Institute of Productivity and Management (IPM) in Lucknow. She spent a number of years working in India, doing marketing work for companies like NIIT Ltd. and SII. However, once her husband – an employee with Satyam Computer Services – was transferred to a posting with the World Bank, both Raghunathan and he immigrated.

“He came on H-1B, so I became H4,” explained Raghunathan, “but I wasn’t too upset about it at first. I had a young child, and then another later on, so I had to care for them. But most of all, we thought that the process to obtain [a] Green Card would only take three or four years, but it’s now been nine years and movement is still slow.”

Raghunathan said that she’s tempering her expectations about the H4 proposal.

“We’ve been hearing things like this for years now, and nothing has ever happened,” she said. “It’s certainly good news, but I think people need to stay calm until it finally comes into effect and H4 [holders] begin working.”

Most importantly, said Raghunathan, she knows she’ll have to start essentially from the ground-up, as she will have spent a clean decade out of work by the time she gets an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), if she does at all.

“I know that I will have to start from scratch, go for training and things like that,” she said, “because I’ve been out of the workforce for so long. I most likely will change my line of work, but honestly, work is work. As long as I’m doing some kind of work, I’ll be happy.”

Another woman from India, who chose to remain unidentified for this story, disclosed that she grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to India for her education. She worked in IT development for two years before coming to the US in 2003. Sidelined by her visa status, her career has been immobile for over a decade.

“It’s a lonely feeling,” she said, “to come to US with no freedom, no friends, and not being able to work. It was a big, big drawback because you don’t have the independence you need. You have to stay home all day, and it’s a much bigger fall-off for people who were working and suddenly have to go to this unemployed life.”

She explained that when her two children were younger, she had her hands full raising them. But now, as they are 10 and 5 years old, her time has freed up again, providing her with the need to get back into a job.

“The queue for these things are so long, though,” she said. “Obviously it would be nice to work again, but I’ll wait and see. Hopefully something positive comes out of all this.”

RELATED STORY: Many H4 visa holders will get work permits this year

The wait for these women to work again could go into effect as early as in the next four months. It will first need to be published in the Federal Register, followed by a period of 60 days in which comments are taken from those who are for and against it.

Then, there will be a 30-day waiting period for EAD cards to be issued, which would benefit an estimated 97,000 H4 visa holders this year itself, and some 30,000 annually over the next few years.

“These individuals are American families in waiting,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said when announcing the new provisions. “Many tire of waiting for green cards and leave the country to work for our competition. The fact is we have to do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States, and these regulations put us on a path to do that.”

For H4 holders around the country, the light at the end of the tunnel is not just visible, but shining a little bit brighter.

62 Comments

  1. Dhanraj k yadav

    work job

  2. ollieallears

    The mind-numbing pettiness in many reponses tells why H-1B and other immigrant workers are so sorely needed. Most people have a one track mind and cannot even see the issue at hand. Which is not H-1B and similar, but H-4.

    FYI: H-4 visa holders are not asking for jobs.
    They are asking for the right to look for a job and take it when they find one.
    They ask for the right to ‘meaningful’ volunteer.
    To be allowed to start their own business here.
    They ask for the right to (continue to) work for an employer in country of origin.
    And pay taxes.

    What is accomplished if a group of mostly women cannot earn a living (anymore) either in the US or in country of origin ? And why can’t you volunteer, start a business or work for an employer outside of the US ?

    So far I have never gotten proper answer(s) to those questions.

    And yes temporary work-visas are being abused. All of them, not only H-1B’s. But that is another discussion.

    The proposed (and now implemented ?) new rules don’t mean a thing for most H-4 visa holders. I know from bitter experience that if you have not worked for a few years, you are damaged goods. No employer wants you anymore.
    This means later in life no Social Security, no premium-free Medicare.

    And before you start to wish me to India – I happen to be from Europe.

    • Mumbai Job Robber

      yeah, we need you like we need a whole in the head. Go the F home, and take your wives with you, we don’t need to give you and explanation for anything jackass, you’re not wanted here with your attitude of entitlement, now leave !

      • Who gives a F*** whether morons like you want us here or not?? We are wanted here by your F****** american companies, and that too so desperately that they can fire their own people and replace them. Pity you jackass. LOL

      • ollieallears

        You are the one who has an attitude and feels entitled. Why ? Because you were born in the USA ?

        Also you could not deduct that I am the wife ?
        You are not even able to properly write in your first language (English).
        And all you do is swear and hurl insults. No proper arguments.

        I rest my case.

  3. smaterthanaveragebear

    most of hateful posts here are made by morons who live in their own version of reality. Learn about the law first before you bring in your self-righteous entitled attitude. This law does not allow all h4 visa holders to work. It only allows spouses of people who have already applied for legal immigration and was approved by the us immigration services but are stuck in the waiting line to get the actual green card. once they get it, they would be able to work anyways. So this law just allows them to start work early during the waiting period.

  4. Joe Guzzardi

    Ditto to “A True American” Both H-1B and H4s knew the rules when they signed on. No one twisted their arms. Nonsense to come to the US and whine about how unfair it is. More than 90 million Americans not attached to the work force will now have to compete with hundreds of thousands more foreign-born workers.

    For the H4s with advanced degrees, they’ll make it tougher for equally educated Americans. H4s with lesser skills will displace vulnerable Americans including many minorities, who really need jobs.

    Obama should care more about Americans and less about Silicon Valley’s needs.

    • H4 EAD Support

      Do you think thousands of woman each year,  most of whom are master’s or phd holders would voluntarily choose to move to a country where all they can do is cook and clean for their husbands?  Ask yourself if it seems remotely possible for a rational, educated,  self respecting woman to make such a decision! Of course not! This is not what they signed up for. This was NOT VOLUNTARY. Had they known the ground reality they wouldn’t have opted to be here to begin with. No one in there wildest dreams conceived a situation where they would be asked to stay at home for a decade or more, particularly in a country like America, the land of the free.

      So far as displacing the local workers is concerned, most of these women are master’s or phd holders targeting high tech jobs. There are several positions of the nature that employer’s are unable to fill. There is a lack of talent in the local market. There is no denying that!

      • Captainbullfrog

        There is NO lack of talent, contrary to what you may have been sold. The alternate option is NOT COME or RETURN TO INDIA. What is wrong with these options? If anyone signed on with expectations of a free ride to America in a timely fashion that suits THEM, how is this a problem with the US government? You can’t come to a foreign country and complain because things aren’t going your way. Grow up.

        • Himani Panwar

          People asking for H4 EAD are not illegal–illegals will not get that.
          Anyone who is legally residing should have the right to ask for a fair
          treatment. Right to job where you live isn’t called entitlement—it is
          called humanity. The EADs are for spouses who have been “approved” for
          permanent residence but are stuck due to inefficiencies in the system.
          You might hate immigrants–but they are in US legally, work hard, pay taxes, and are only asking for a fair treatment in a country where they are living in.

          • Captainbullfrog

            You are here because of the superior infrastructure and job opportunities. Americans made it possible – what you desire and why you are here, but you think it is fine to displace the people who create and sustain it. Get in line behind the native citizens and stop pushing.

          • Stop being a whiner. There is little to zero ambition, creativity or optimism on the opportunities that are available. If a 40 something, almost 50, guy with a mere high school education can make something out of US economy then almost anyone can. You dont have to have a talent for that.
            “Survival of the fittest”- If you can take it, you make it or u get kicked out and get replaced!!!

          • No, they are not in America “legally”. The whole H-1B program is based on a fraudulent premise, and a majority of H-1B applications are fraudulent.

          • They are in the US legally. Period.
            There is indeed a lot wrong with the H-1B program and other temporary worker programs.
            But to have that remedied you need to address your Congressperson, Senator.
            You cannot blame the H-1B workler for that. Maybe the company that hired him (her).

            So far all the complaning has led to more employers bringing the workers not in on H-1B, but on L-1 visas.
            The big bonus ? An L-2 spouse is allowed to work.

          • Stop crying and go out there and provide something that others want or need. You are not a victim. This is the same, the exact same, kind of mindset that Americans have and you all use it at every given opportunity to proclaim your “victim hood”. Is that what America has become, huge swathes of victims looking for someone to protect them from the competition coming from the rest of the world? I surely hope not. China and India are charging like bulls and you lazy americans are the overweight matador with a red cape in one hand and a beer in the other!!!!!

          • If the H-1B program is your problem you should tell your elected politicians to fix that. And reform the whole non-immigrant system while they are at it.
            I agree with you those temporary worker programs are being misused/abused.
            But it is really low and petty to punish a rather small group of women for incompentence and the unwillingness to deal with this issue.

            Furthermore why are H-4’s detested so much but do you love the immigrants that come in throught the DV lottery ? These newcomers are often less educated/experienced and are competing with USers for lower level jobs.

        • ollieallears

          What on earth is that ‘free ride’ you are going on about ?!

      • Visa_Go_Home

        go back where you came from, America is not your piggy bank, ripe for your theft. You don’t have the right to come here and take – you knew that when you came here; America doesn’t belong to india. Go home, fix your country, take responsibility for making things right in your own house, and then you won’t need to come here steal. Take you fake PhD, and go start up a business in india. And by the way, every country is a “land of immigrants”, even india. You can’t cry “globalization” and “land of immigrants” every time you want to steal and to have everyone else make you happy and allow you take. America is the land of the free, that doesn’t mean it’s FREE for you to rob from. Go home H1B, and take your spouses with you.

        • ollieallears

          Uh…. why should I go to India ?
          Since when is paying taxes etc. ‘stealing’ ?

          Furthermore if this is the land of the free – freedom to me means economic freedom. To earn my own living. Never was allowed that.

          Many USers work in Europe. We do not tell them they are ‘stealing’. Maybe we should ?
          (They do build all kinds of entitlements for later in life already by just being in my country.)

        • Stop crying and go out there and provide something that others want or need. You are not a victim. This is the same, the exact same, kind of mindset that Americans have and you all use it at every given opportunity to proclaim your “victim hood”. Is that what America has become, huge swathes of victims looking for someone to protect them from the competition coming from the rest of the world? I surely hope not.

      • Visa_Go_Home

        you don’t get to dictate the rules of someone else’s country, did they teach you that in india? What nerve, where do you get off complaining and demanding in MY country, what a sense of entitlement you have. Our advice: GO HOME NOW, you’re not welcome here

        • why the hate?

          what do u think the H1bs are trying to do here? earn an honest living and provide a huge contribution to the federal and state taxes. Do u have any idea of the number of jobs created by foreign entrepreneurs here and how many americans are benefiting from it ?. think for once why would a company go through the HUGE trouble of filing for a H1b which is temporary AND also an uncertainty these days if there was the corresponding available local talent?. who has the majority attendance in the STEM fields in once of the best universities in the US ? who pays DOUBLE the tuition in the Universities compared to instate tuition. And this additonal money is going towards the better economy for everyone. So i ask again “why the hate?”

          • H-1B’s destroy the tax base by leaving American engineers unemployed, and worse, suppressing the compensation of everyone involved.

        • Himani Panwar

          You can’t say “Go home” to legal people who have legally been approved for permanent residence. Sorry you hate us–enjoy your hate-fest.

          • Captainbullfrog

            Why would anyone ever be to desperate to live someplace they aren’t wanted?

          • Because the US toots always it own horn all over the world: how this country is built thanks to immigrants, how generous this countryt is, how this is a land of opportunity.
            By the time one realizes the truth it is too late.
            The immigration has already happened, the money is spent.
            You really think the lawyers who draw up the H-1B papers tell the spouse the horrible H-4 truth ?
            You think US Embassies/Consukates give the facts when asked ?
            Dream on.

          • Did your ancestors care about whether they were wanted in this place or not?

          • Mumbai Job Robber

            that stupid argument again, about how America doesn’t belong to Americans, can’t you say anything else c*nt? Get over it, you’re not entitled to be here, you have no rights here, go the F home

          • Did my comment pissed u off u moron??? I bet you stupid americans would never have an answer to my ques..no doubt you are a moderchod..LOL

            H1B holders are as legal as u f****** retards are. You merely inherited the citizenship from your slave ancestors who got down from the ship decades ago..What is your contribution in it? Its because of thousands of $$ taxes we pay each year, that dumb americans like you are surviving in this country. Better do some work or else you ll be kicked in your rear end by your indian boss. LMAO..

      • Mumbai Job Robber

        a decade a more? H1B’s are supposed to leave after a maximum of 6 years, are you and your spouse here illegally ? The nerve of some people, the outlandish sense of entitlement, do you think that anyone here is shedding a tear for you? H1B go home, and take your spouses with you. If you don’t like our rules, THEN STAY HOME, you’re not welcome here

        • why the hate?

          correction. This beautiful nation was founded on immigration :). it rightfully belonged to the native american. the hateful comments you are posting applies to your ancestors too :) So please rethink before u post !

        • why the hate?

          you are obviously out to point and hate. but let me clarify a few things before you rant. H1b is a dual intent. If u have your I-140 permanent residence approved, u can extend your h1b beyond 6 years until u hear back regarding the permanent residency decision. Please get the facts right before u start ranting about being “illegal”.

          • H-1B is a *guest worker* visa. It may allow for dual intent, but that is a relatively uncommon application of such, and generally would require a LCA. LCA’s in most STEM roles tend to be obtained fraudulently, as there is no meaningful and good faith shortage of US STEM talent.

          • If H-1B is indeed a visa more in line with contracting than the requirement should not be prevailing wage but should be two, three times prevailing wage.
            That way the H-1B worker could either have his family stay home, or build a nest egg to go back.
            And the worker would be a lot less attractive to US employers.

            But punishing the spouse, making her unemployable in the US as well as in country of origin, is NOT the solution to your problem. On the contrary, because you took away all economic possibilities and freedoms there is no incentive for her to go back.

      • There’s an enormous amount of talent in the local market. So much talent in fact that even top grads do not even receive so much as the ‘courtesy of a response’ from the employers who claim to be looking for talent.
        If these women are really Masters or PhD holders (I doubt it, but I’ll play your game), they need to get in line and apply for a H-1B visa just like their husbands had to. But in reality, neither they, nor their husbands are needed in America, as there is a huge glut of talented STEM professionals.

        • ollieallears

          Yes ! there is a lot of talent in the US already and there is a glut of freshly educated as well as older workers without jobs.
          But you should put the blame where it belongs: employers, HRmanagers, recruiters.
          Maybe even the colleges and universities that sold education apparently not what the companies looking for talent do need.

          This is not the responsibility of the H-1B workers.

        • ollieallears

          Yes ! there is a lot of talent in the US already and there is a glut of freshly educated as well as older workers without jobs.
          But you should put the blame where it belongs: employers, HRmanagers, recruiters.
          Maybe even the colleges and universities that sold education apparently not what the companies looking for talent do need.

          This is not the responsibility of the H-1B workers.

  5. A true american!!

    As much as I sympathize with the men/women on H4 in the USA, lets face it. They weren’t FORCED to leave their homes an jobs in India. They came here on their will. NO-ONE FORCED them to do so. Asking the government to change their policy on H4 because they married someone who is on H1B, is like, breaking the lights and then telling the police to change the law because they want it so. It’s just not FAIR!!!!

    • You were once an immigrant. What would have happened if your ancestors weren t allowed to work ? These women sacrificed their career for their better half. Have respect. Many of them were above average achievers who toiled in schools to learn science and technology. Restricting these future Americans is a lose to America but instead if they are allowed to work, America will grow and get taxes. But still if you wish that they must remain home, outsource your jobs to other countries.

      • Saragama

        I agree “These women sacrificed their career” . Then face it. Because it is sacrificed. It is gone.

      • Captainbullfrog

        Knock it off. This is the 21st century. The 18th century immigrant argument is not relevant.

        • Lol I think Mr. Bull frog your cribbing so much because you make a very measly salary….

          • Captainbullfrog

            Actually I make a living cleaning up after you guys. Failing projects way over budget and far behind. Business is good! I don’t think I have seen a more unqualified lot of wannabes in my 20+ years in IT.

          • lol….yeah we are useless…and these liar surveys say Indian-Americans have higher IQ than average Americans, higher achievements, work harder on education, get paid well, and hold good jobs. No wonder you hate us :-). But your corporates want us—sorry you didn’t create the development in America; those corporates who create the real growth and GDP–want us to be here. Please use your votes to crush us, abuse us wherever you can…but please don’t forget to use our tax-money for your social security freebies. Make sure you don’t apply for jobs created in projects run by Indians; and ask your government to not use the “dirty Indians” tax dollars for your social security benefits. Ohhh–I forgot you are entitled to everything—after all you were “born” here unlike us who worked hard to find legal jobs here. It must be pretty convenient to forget while pelting stones that we are legally residing here (ahhh—, sorry you didn’t get to write the American law)

          • Captainbullfrog

            If you guys were useful, there wouldn’t be any need for nepotism and fraudulent degrees, now would there? You are completely losing sight of the truth – you are being exploited and you are going for it. Hook, line and sinker. Inexpensive temporary labor. And as far as entitlement, you need to go review your own countries policies as far as ‘ globalization’ and foreign businesses setting up shop in India. You can’t have it both ways.

          • India IQ = 81. And 600 million open defecators is the result of Indian “engineering”. Does America really want to import that?

          • “cribbing”, another indian job-robber with a fake CV, thinking that he has a right to steal in someone else’s country. I wish I had a dollar for each one of you that I’ve encountered over the last 15 years. Refusing to fix the problems of their own country ( why did you even moan and groan about independence, if all you intended to do was complain some more that other countries aren’t taking kindly to your begging???), it’s just easier to rob and beg I guess, right?

          • Stop crying and go out there and provide something that others want or need. You are not a victim. This is the same, the exact same, kind of mindset that Americans have and you all use it at every given opportunity to proclaim your “victim hood”. Is that what America has become, huge swathes of victims looking for someone to protect them from the competition coming from the rest of the world? I surely hope not. China and India are charging like bulls and you lazy americans are the overweight matador with a red cape in one hand and a beer in the other!!!!!

    • Sorry Mr.TrueAmerican, Your analogy makes no sense…

      • Captainbullfrog

        What!! Care to elaborate? I see wannabe immigrants dictating policy as they see it; as long as it benefits them.

    • H4 EAD Support

      I completely disagree with you. When these women came to the US they were led to believe that they can apply for a H1b and start working. But that never really happens because the H1b visa is simply not designed for the H4 immigrant. No serious, career minded women would come to the US knowing that it would spell the end of her career. That explains why many professionals are opting not to move to the US. Several countries require high skilled workers and almost all of them view the family as a unit. A family cannot sustain on one income for long, which is why many young professionals are moving out resulting in a loss of competitive advantage to America. Immigrants have always been our strength. We need to correct the situation before it’s too late

      • Saragama

        “they were led to believe that they can apply for a H1b and start working.” Sorry H4 EAD Support you are misled. You should have done your research ahead.

        • ollieallears

          You can research it now.
          When we left – 25 years ago – there was no internet.
          And no I had not expected in the US what I found: dishonesty, inefficiency, small mindedness and outright stupidity.
          So yes blame me for that mistake.

      • Should stay in India then. I hear there’s 600 million open defecators who would love to have toilets. And a railway system to modernize. A heck of a lot more opportunity for the Indian engineer in India, than there is in America, that’s for sure. Indian engineers and their American overlords need to stop being so selfish.

        • Stop being a whiner. Go out there and provide something that others want or need. You are not a victim. This is the same, the exact same, kind of mindset that Americans have and you all use it at every given opportunity to proclaim your “victim hood”. Is that what America has become, huge swathes of victims looking for someone to protect them from the competition coming from the rest of the world? I surely hope not. China and India are charging like bulls and you lazy americans are the overweight matador with a red cape in one hand and a beer in the other!!!!!

    • Clinton Gomes

      You are not a true Amerixan. Americans are a nation of immigrants!!!
      Also most developed countries allow spouse to work.. how can u have an immigrant not work for a decade or more.. this rule will pass!!!

      • Captainbullfrog

        Oh brother. Go back to India and stop trying to lecture the natives. Sheesh.

        • natives?? LOL.. Just because your slave ancestors got down of the ship decades before doesnt make you a native. And why should others go back to their country because of your insecurities. Pity your stupid american mindset, you swathes of morons can never handle or face any competition. Better go work, or your indian boss will kick your rear end..LMAO

    • ollieallears

      Americans are always going on about fair-unfair. If it hits them it is unfair. If it hits somebody else it is good policy.
      Your comparison is so lame there is no point in addressing it.

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