Google leads push for work permits for spouses of H-1B holders

Denying work permits to spouses would impact 90,000 H-4 visa-holders, 90% of whom are Indian women.

Google is leading an effort to maintain work authorization for tens of thousands of people whose spouses hold H-1B visas, widely used by high-skilled Indian tech professionals.

Over 40 US companies submitted an amicus brief Friday in a case known as Save Jobs USA v. Department of Homeland Security before a Washington district court, CNBC reported.

The court is considering the plaintiff’s challenge to a DHS rule that allows so-called H-4 visa holders to work legally while their spouses on H-1B visas await green cards.

Besides google, led by Indian American CEO Sundar Pichai, companies that signed onto the amicus brief also include Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, eBay, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, PayPal, Reddit, StubHub and Twitter.

Invalidating the rule that allows some H-4 visa-holders to work “would result in these talented individuals being barred from the workplace, forcibly severing tens of thousands of employment relationships across the country,” the tech companies submitted.

They wrote that 90,000 H-4 visa-holders would be impacted, 90% of whom are women. Indian spouses (largely women) accounted for 84,360, or 93% of the total such EADs up to December, 2017, according to official data.

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

The plaintiff, Save Jobs USA, which identified itself in court filings as a group of computer workers formerly employed by Southern California Edison and “replaced by foreign workers imported on H1B guest worker visas,” has claimed DHS overstepped its authority in allowing for the work authorization of H-4 visa-holders and asked that the rule allowing for it be vacated.

In the amicus brief, Google and other tech companies said such a result “would be utterly destructive for the families impacted; by just one measure, about 87% of these families have made crucial life decisions on the promise of H-4 employment, including whether to have a child and whether to buy a house.”

Since the rule covers H-4 visa-holders whose spouses have been approved for permanent residency but are waiting for a green card, the companies wrote that families in that stage rely on the H-4 rule to bring in a dual income.

The brief also notes that women would be disproportionately impacted if the rule were invalidated, due to the overwhelming percentage of women with H-4 visas.

The companies discussed the mental health implications that could come with being stripped of worker status suddenly, including examples of those impacted by visa processing delays developing depression and anxiety.

The companies also said H-4 workers are essential to their operations. Like H-1B visa holders, many H-4 workers have high levels of skill and education, with 99% holding at least a college degree and nearly 60% with a master’s degree or above, according to the brief.

Many work in highly skilled fields, with two-thirds of employed H-4 visa-holders working a science, technology and mathematics job, the companies wrote.

They also referenced DHS’ explanation in instituting the rule in 2015, which said that it would help to ease “disincentives” that caused H-1B visa holders to abandon their pursuit of permanent residency, which would minimize “disruptions” to US businesses they work for.”

The companies say that economic analysis shows getting rid of the rule would lower US gross domestic product by about $7.5 billion per year and the federal government would lose at least $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue.

Plus, skilled workers who don’t want to deal with the headache of the US immigration system while waiting for a spouse to get a green card are more likely to go to other countries more accepting of their immigration status, the brief says.

The companies contended that harm to U.S. workers is “minimal.”

“Indeed, the estimated job losses to domestic workers from the program are almost exactly canceled out by the 6,800 jobs created by the H-4 entrepreneurs who have founded companies and employ American workers,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, Catherine Lacavera, VP, Legal at Google, has blogged: “A fair immigration system is necessary to preserve America’s laudable history of welcoming people from different places and to fuel a virtuous cycle of innovation. Unfortunately, an impending court case is putting both at risk at the most inopportune moment.”

“The pandemic has already disproportionately impacted women and ending this program would only make things worse, leading to disrupted careers and lost wages.”

“Furthermore, if the program is lost, the practical effect is that we welcome a person to the US to work but we make it harder for their spouse to work. That hurts their family, impacts our ability to compete for talent, and harms our economy,” Lacavera wrote.

“As an immigrant myself, I have been the beneficiary of a welcoming America and I hope we can ensure that same welcome for future immigrants by preserving the H-4 EAD program,” she wrote. Ending this program would hurt families and undercut the US economy at a critical moment.”


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Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman asks DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas about H-4 EAD delays (March 22, 2021)

Another day, another H-4 EAD visa holder loses her job while awaiting work permit extensions (March 7, 2021)

H-4, L-2 EAD visa extension backlogs may take years to clear out, say attorneys (February 28, 2021)

The forgotten workers: Why is no one talking about L-2 visa, EAD delays? L-2 holders are suffering as much as H-4 holders (February 23, 2021)

Those awaiting H-4 EAD holders disappointed that Biden has not addressed work permit delays (February 10, 2021)

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