“We are moving closer to the ‘khalifa system’ in the Middle East where workers are brought only to work, but not become residents,” says Bhatt, author of “High-Tech Housewives.”
Amy Bhatt’s High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration (University of Washington Press, 2018), which highlights the plight of H-4 visa holders, was released last summer. The book explores how ideas about gender and the family are transformed and reinforced through migration, using the case of H-1B and H-4 visa holders.
During the research for her book, Bhatt, an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, followed the lives of Indian H-1B and H-4 visa holders over the course of 10 years. While the H-1B visa program has been successful in recruiting global talent, because it allows the entire family to come to the United States, Bhatt found out that its luster is diminishing because of increasing anti-immigrant sentiments in this country and long wait times for green card. Some families decide to go back to India while others are looking to move to countries such as Canada where spouses would not have to wait for long to start working.
Bhatt is also the co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, 2013). Recently, she spoke to the American Bazaar about the human cost and impact of high skilled immigration and why everyone should comment against the H-4 visa rule change.
What is the latest on H-4 visa rule change? What is it that thousands of those who may be affected by the ruling need to know now?
Almost immediately after they took office, the Trump administration made it clear that they intend to rescind employment authorization for H-4 visa holders. Even though the right to work is limited to a small segment of H-4 visa holders–those who have already had their permanent residency petitions approved, but have not yet received it — this rule has become a target for their overall anti-immigration agenda. In the fall of 2018, the government had signaled that it planned to revoke the Obama-era rule and open a 30 or 60 day period of public comment in early 2019. However, the current government shut-down has stalled those plans. We are now in a period of “wait-and-see” to see when they will officially move forward.
If the rule is revoked, those H-4 visa holders who have already received their employment authorization document (EAD) could lose their ability to work in the U.S. That’s why it is important that people who care about immigration take a moment to comment against the rule change.
The proposed revoking of H-4 visa has led to thousands of Indian immigrants leading uncertain lives in the United States. In the current scenario, more than ever before, why do you think Indians must speak up and take action and how
More and more Indians are living in limbo as they wait for some sort of immigration relief. The incredibly long wait times for green cards in employment based categories for Indian nationals has created a nightmare scenario. People who have been living and working in the U.S. may never have the chance to fully become part of American society. In some ways, we are moving closer to the “khalifa system” in the Middle East where workers are brought in to only to work, but not become residents or citizens.
I think it’s more important than ever that Indian immigrants speak up to stop this turn in immigration policy. This move against the H-4 is just the first step in limiting skilled immigration and is linked to other efforts to curb family based immigration. While the current administration can’t easily stop the H-1B program, it can make life uncomfortable enough for families that they will choose to “self-deport” or even make the decision to not come to the U.S. at all.
For now, there are a few courses of action. First it to make sure that people spread the word about the rule change and to take a minute to make a comment once the period is opened. You can do this by visiting the Federal Register’s website and filling out an online form. Next is to support legislative solutions, such as The Reuniting Families Act, which will be re-introduced in the new Congress. This bill will work to reunite and keep families together, clear family based backlogs, but most importantly, eliminate the country caps for both employment and family-based visas. The solutions proposed in this bill are particularly important in a moment when all immigrants are coming under attack from the Trump administration.
Can the H-4 Employment Protection Act be seen as a hope for hundreds of thousands of work-force on H4 visa.
The H-4 Employment Act would create legislative protection for H-4 visa holders’ ability to work. It would certainly be welcome relief for those who are waiting for their green cards and give them the chance to work in the U.S. It is a very simple stop-gap that would help ease the lives of H-1B workers families as they wait for a more sustainable solution to the overall green card backlog.
Many activists have said that targeting H-4 EAD work force is actually like getting after the lowest lying fruit. In the atmosphere of ant-immigrant rhetoric, what are some of the future ramifications it can have?
Absolutely. It is low-hanging fruit, especially since there are only about 100,000 H-4 spouses who have received work authorization since 2015. Another reason the EAD is an easy target is because the majority of these H-4 spouses are women, who are assumed to be secondary income earners anyway. Many assume that they don’t need to work because they have husbands who will support them.
It’s important to remember though that the EAD doesn’t mean that they are given jobs–they just have the right to legally apply for work. H-4 spouses still have to go through the same job process and prove their credentials as anyone else. If anything, being on the H-4 is still a disadvantage because some employers are unwilling to take the risk on hiring someone who could lose their ability to work. More than that, it is important to remember that H-4 visa holders can only be in the country if their H-1B holding spouse has a visa in good standing. If something happens to the H-1B visa holder or if he loses his job, H-4 visa holders are also in trouble. We are seeing more denials of H-1B extensions without evidence, which puts the entire family at risk.
As an expert viewing the case closely, what would you say to those waiting in anticipation about the rulings?
I think the biggest thing now is start getting involved in spreading the word about the issues that high-skilled immigrants face and to join fights to protect other categories of immigrants as well. The attacks that the H-1B program is facing are not separate from the attacks on family reunification, country or religion specific bans, or other forms of immigration restrictions. They are tied to the same agenda of reducing the number of immigrants in the U.S. overall and to shutting down our borders to newcomers, from all parts of the world. I think it is important to support legislation like the Reuniting Families Act and to use your voice to be heard.