Soon, spouses of H-1B visa holders can apply for work permit in US

By: | Published: February 26, 2015 12:38 AM

An estimated 179,600 H-4 dependent spouses will be eligible to apply for employment authorisation in the first year of implementation, and an estimated 55,000 will be eligible in subsequent years.

In a welcome move for Indian software professionals holding H-1B visas, the US administration has decided to grant work permits to their spouses as well. This means the latter can now take up jobs in the US.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting applications for work permits from May 26, subject to conditions.

According to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), an organisation based in the US, an estimated 179,600 H-4 dependent spouses will be eligible to apply for employment authorisation in the first year of implementation, and an estimated 55,000 H-4 spouses will be eligible in subsequent years. H-4 is a dependent status given to spouses of H1-B visa holders who are working onsite.

“Numerous South Asians enter the US through the H-1B visa programme, and figures from the State Department show that approximately 76% of those who received H-4 status in 2013 were from South Asian countries. Many H-4 dependent spouses have found themselves to be involuntary homemakers upon their arrival to the US, which not only impacts their family income and sustainability, but also diminishes their ability to expand upon professional skills,” SAALT said in a statement.

Shivendra Singh, vice-president (global trade development), Nasscom, told FE, “This provides relief to H-1B visa holders and clearly recognises the invaluable contribution of highly skilled professionals globally”. Initial reading on the matter indicates it favours green card holders and Nasscom will only be able to make a final assessment after a detailed study, he said. Singh remarked the decision was in line with the executive order signed by US President Barack Obama in November last year.

The US gives out 65,000 H1-B visas every year, the majority of which are bagged by large Indian IT firms like TCS, Infosys and Wipro. This six-year work permit allows IT professionals to take their spouses, who have H-4 dependent status. This makes them ineligible to work or get a social security number.

Former Infosys board member and CFO V Balakrishnan called the move a “morale booster”, saying this was a long- pending demand from Indian professionals.

The work permit, however, comes with certain conditions. It will be applicable only to H-4 dependent spouses of H1-B holders who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. The eligible individuals include certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B non-immigrants who are the beneficiaries of an approved ‘Form I-140′, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or satisfy at least one or more of the three conditions. The other conditions include principal H1-B worker having an approved ‘I-140′ or currently on an extended H1-B status beyond the six-year limitation.

An IT professional with a leading mid-tier firm said, “It now becomes easier to survive if both husband and wife work. In a place like California, the rent of a house is almost double that in New York City. With expenses rising, it will definitely be of help if the wife gets permission to work.”

He also felt that despite adequate qualifications, many spouses relocate back to India as they are unable find a job. “If my wife can work, then I will probably think about staying back in the US and apply for a green card, instead of looking to shift base to India or a place like Canada, where my wife can work,” he remarked.

However, SAALT said, “Today’s announcement is a welcome first step that will dramatically help some families in the US, but the success of H-1B workers and their families is limited when only some H-4 visa holders are eligible for work authorisation.”

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