PublishedMarch 3, 2015

New H-4 Spouse Regulation is Welcome Action to Address Burden on Skilled Foreign Talent

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule on extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B workers who are applying for employment-based green cards. The rule was originally proposed last May. CCIA commends the administration for recognizing the need to “support the goals of attracting and retaining highly skilled foreign workers,” and finalizing action to reduce a huge economic burden borne by the households of skilled workers seeking permanent residency.

Under current law, spouses of H-1B workers cannot work in the U.S. while they wait for a green card. This places an unnecessary economic burden on them, as they must support their families on a single income for years. This may result in some of these foreign workers choosing to pursue their careers in other countries who do not subject them to such burdens. At a time when the U.S. technology sector is engaged in a global competition for talent, we need to be incentivizing these workers to put their talents to use here, rather than making things more difficult for them, and we are grateful to the administration for recognizing this.

While this welcome change is expected to alleviate some of the pain that H-1B workers go through during their journey towards a green card, there remain major problems with both the beginning of the journey and the end. At the beginning of this process is the application for the H-1B work visa. The application season for H-1B visas for FY 2016 is now a month away. Recent years have shown that the annual H-1B cap of 85,000 is wholly inadequate, with the cap being hit within a week of USCIS beginning to accept applications. On the other end, the exit point of this journey features a huge backlog of employment-based green cards causing the wait to stretch over years. It is important to remember that the H-4 work authorization rule will be an effective palliative, but the ills that plague employment-based skilled immigration cannot be cured without broader reform.

The fact that Punxsutawney Phil saw the shadow of the DHS funding fight, seemingly consigning skilled immigration reform to who-knows-how-many-more weeks of legislative winter, was discouraging. Yet even in the depths of winter, we have seen such positive developments as this H-4 rule, and the introduction of new versions of the Immigration Innovation Act and the Startup Act. Such green shoots give us reason to look forward to a spring thaw and potential future action on skilled immigration reform.

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