US government-issued H-1B visas allow US employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, such as those in the STEM fields. With the visa, these foreign workers, who must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, are then allowed to work and stay in the US legally for three years, and later apply for renewal for another three years.
Holders of H-1B visa can bring dependents – a spouse and children under 21 – to the US under the H-4 visa category. In May 2015, the US Department of Homeland Security also announced a major reform that allowed spouses of H-1B visa holders to apply for work permits.
But things look set to change for H-1B visa holders’ spouses and children. A statement by Homeland Security last week said it intends to revoke the rule that lets spouses of these immigrant workers eligible to work in the US, TIME reported. No reasons were given by the department apart from saying it is “in light of” the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that President Trump signed in April.
Children of H-1B workers are also reportedly being forced to return to their home country when they turn 21, and lose their dependent status, according to India-West.
“Many of these children came to the US when they were just one or two. With the unlimited number of extensions for H-1B holders once an I-140 application (petition for green card) is approved, these kids have spent their entire childhood in the US but are still not considered permanent residents,” Rashi Bhatnagar, founder of the blog and Facebook form “H4 Visa: A Curse” told India-West.
— ITV Gold (@ITVGold) December 20, 2017
Bhatnagar explains that once they are no longer considered a dependent, H-4 children must return to their country of birth, not unlike the situation faced by the “Dreamers,”
“For so many of them, America is the only country they have ever known,” Bhatnagar said.
They, as well as their H-1B visa holder parents, who have stayed in the six years technically qualify to apply for a US green card, which usually takes a processing time of around seven months.
However, for Indian nationals, who make up the bulk of H-1B visa holders, that process takes between 70 to 300 years according to the organization Skilled Immigrants In America (SIIA). This is due to the country cap mandated by Congress, which allots only seven percent of all green cards issued that year – less than 9,000 each year – to Indian nationals, explained attorneys Rahul Reddy & Emily Neumann in a blog post.
“We are legally here, highly-paid, taxpaying and law-abiding. Were we born in some other country, we would have been US citizens by now. The amount of positive contributions that we make to this country, we just want the Congress to see it and hopefully that will solve this problem,” SIIA president Anirban Ghosh said during a protest to eliminate the per-country cap for green cards in Washington DC in late October.
The green card limbo and revocation of the work permits are expected to deter high-skilled immigrants from choosing to work and stay in the US, if their spouses can’t easily find work or if their children’s future is in jeopardy. With the executive order also calling for the H-1B visa programme to be reviewed, it’s an unsettling time for current visa holders, its future applicants and generally for all foreigners in Trump’s America.
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