Backlog created by Trump has hit spouses of Indian H-1B visa holders the hardest.
A group of 60 US House members has urged President-elect Joe Biden to unilaterally extend the validity of work permits of H4 visa holders, a majority of whom are spouses of Indian H-1B visa holders.
The plea was made in a letter signed among others by all four Indian American lawmakers — Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Pramila Jayapal.
Other key signatories include congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman, Rashida Talib, Barbara Lee and Judy Chu.
Changes made during President Donald Trump’s tenure to the way employment authorization documents are processed have led to months-long delays, the letter points out.
Loss of, or inability to secure, employment outside of the home has taken researchers, physicians and other highly-skilled roles offline while also adding new financial burdens for these families, it says.
“We respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security publish a Federal Register notice on day one of your administration that would extend the validity period of all expired H4 EADs,” the lawmakers wrote.
“In 2015…the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US.”
“This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system, as around 95% of H4 visa holders who have secured work authorizations are women,” the letter stated.
“Before the rule was granted, many women on H4 visas described depression and isolation in moving to a new country and not being allowed to work outside of the home,” it said.
“Unfortunately, these women are losing and will continue to lose their jobs until this is put right, disrupting the lives of their families and the functioning of employers in our districts.”
The legal immigration system has been severely harmed by Trump administration policies, the lawmakers stated noting the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently has a backlog of approximately 2.5 million cases, the highest net backlog in nearly two decades.
Much of the growth in the case backlog at USCIS has been caused by policy changes that have increased the amount of time it takes to process forms and issue visas, the lawmakers pointed out.
A tremendous target of these changes has been the H-1B visa program, which allows highly-skilled immigrants, including doctors and nurses, to live and work in the US, they noted.
Despite the clear need for more medical personnel during the covid-19 crisis, the Trump administration has issued bans limiting the program, attempted to cripple the program through regulatory changes, the lawmakers stated.
This has greatly increased the difficulty of obtaining an H-1B visa – simultaneously hampering H4 visa holders and applicants, they added.
Meanwhile, NBC News cited the cases of thousands of immigrants across the US — most of whom are women from India — who have lost their jobs because the USCIS failed to renew their work authorization.
The work permits are normally issued to spouses of skilled workers on H-1B visas after their employers have begun the process of sponsoring their families’ green cards.
Experts cited by NBC News say that while the Trump administration has met resistance in its attempts to overhaul the H-1B program as part of its broader efforts to curb immigration, targeting the spouses of H-1B workers on the H-4EAD program by repeatedly threatening to revoke it — and by slowing the processing of the work permits — has proven easier.
The H-4EAD program was “low-hanging fruit in terms of immigration policy, especially considering that Trump had run on much broader sweeping immigration restrictions,” Amy Bhatt, the author of “High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration,” a book about the experiences of Indian women in the U.S. on H-4 visas, was quoted as saying.
With the administration’s days numbered, advocates for the work authorizations are calling on the incoming Biden administration to direct USCIS to end the processing lapses that lead to job losses in order to provide stability to the mostly Indian women across the country whose careers are currently dictated by the federal government, NBC News said.
Ninety-three percent of the more than 90,000 people who were granted first-time H-4EADs from 2015 to 2018 were women, most of whom came to the US from India, according to data from USCIS cited by NBC News.
Overall, 93 percent of current H-4EAD holders are South Asian women, according to South Asian Americans Leading Together.
On average, H-4EAD holders surveyed for a report published last year by the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute faced a four-year employment gap in the US, not including the length of time it would take to obtain a job after receiving the H-4EAD and assuming the H-4 visa holder did not obtain an employment visa during that time.