Rep. Coleman asks DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas about H-4 EAD delays

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (DHS Photo by Zachary Hupp)

Mayorkas tells the congresswoman that “he looks forward to meeting with her and understanding better her concerns” on H-4 EAD delays.

Thousands of H-4 visa holders with work permits have been voicing concerns about extraordinary delays on the part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in processing their visa extensions. While the Obama-era program has remained in news ever since former President Donald Trump tried to scrap it at the beginning of his term , those waiting for their extensions were optimistic when the Biden administration withdrew Trump’s H-4 EAD rescission rule within days of assuming office.

However, tens of thousands of H4 EAD holders are still waiting for their extensions. For some, the extension has been pending for close to a year, resulting in many of them losing their jobs.

Advocacy groups such as SaveH4EAD have been campaigning for the issue to be raised and action to be taken by the administration.

As a result, on March 17, the H-4EAD delays issue was finally raised during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

“I would certainly like you to tell me what you are going to do to improve upon the backlogs for the H4 visas,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-NJ, told Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

RELATED: A timeline and history of H-4 EAD (January 27, 2021)

Coleman, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 12th congressional district, told the secretary that the delays have “resulted in women not having jobs outside of their homes, impacted their family incomes, and it has actually robbed us of high level skills and education that would be helpful to us in our economy.”

Mayorkas told the congresswoman that “he looks forward to meeting with her and understanding better her concerns in that regard.”

Those waiting for their visa and work permit extensions relieved that finally their concerns have been elevated to the DHS level by a member of Congress. A twitter post by the advocacy group SaveH4EAD thanked Watson.

The tweet read, “Heartfelt gratitude to Honorable Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman for raising #H4EADdelays issue with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas. We are determined to resolve this under your leadership. Shout out to our volunteers across country for advocating tirelessly to bring this issue front and center for the House Homeland Security Committee hearing.”

Efforts of thousands of H-4 holders from across the country were instrumental in the issue getting the congresswoman’s attention. In the past several weeks, they have been making calls and writing emails and tweets to the members of the House Homeland Committee, pointing out their predicament, and highlighting how the visa situation is impacting their livelihoods in the middle of a pandemic. Many of them are essential workers, frontline healthcare professionals, small business owners, teachers, scientists and engineers.

The current processing delays by USCIS are mainly due two factors: additional biometric requirements implemented by the previous administration through Executive Order 13780, and the delays due to Covid-related restrictions.

A majority of H-4 visa holders are women. Many awaiting visa extensions are also unable to renew their driver’s licenses and some cannot renew even their state IDs, as well. With their visa extensions pending, some are unable to travel to their home countries even in case of emergencies.

With one family member unable to work, many families are experiencing financial burden. Encumbered with mortgages, some are experiencing mental stress as well.

Rallies in San Jose and Oregon

Earlier this month, SaveH4EAD recently organized two marches in San Jose, CA, and Portland, OR, demanding swift action.

Volunteers from the group’s California chapter converged at the San Jose City Hall, in early March, to highlight the plight of these women and to call for Biden administration’s attention towards the delay.

Followed by the positive reception of the San Jose march, volunteers took out another march this week in Portland, Oregon. On March 14, despite heavy rains and inclement weather, women came out in impressive numbers to voice their concerns about inordinate delays in processing the visa and EAD extensions.

“This has led to many sleepless nights. It has made me question my worth, it has led me to question whether I will be able to make use of my master’s degree which I earned in the US,” said one attendee who currently works as a mental health therapist. Her H4 EAD is set to expire in July 2021.

“We are here to reiterate that this is our home, this is where we have spent the last several years of our lives, raised families and contributed positively to the society and economy as skilled legal immigrants,” said Pratima Joglekar, one of the organizers of the event.

Several men also joined the march to show solidarity with the women. Sreenidhi Krishnamoorthy, one of the attendees, said that his wife, who is currently a student at San Jose State University, has been waiting for H-4 renewal for the past five months. “We’re going through a very difficult time in paying her residency tuition, as she’s not being allowed work as a Teaching Assistant,” she said. “I’m the only earning member and it has been extremely stressful for our family.”

The march also saw families along with little children holding posters and placards highlighting the inconvenience meted out to these mostly women of color.

Through its advocacy efforts, the group hopes that the Biden administration will provide immediate relief by removing the additional biometrics requirements and allow anyone who has filed for an H-4 and H-4 EAD application to use their receipt notice as proof of employment authorization until USCIS is able to adjudicate the application.

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