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Should spouses of temporary skilled workers have work rights?

H-4-Visa illustration snapshot

Washington, October 18: in the US, under the Trump administration, spouses of skilled migrants are set to lose work rights in the US.

Temporary skilled workers in the US on H-1B visas normally granted 3 or 6 year visas were allowed to take their spouse with them by the US governments. The spouse in that case would travel on H-4 visa.

In 2015, the Obama administration through a ruling granted those spouses – on H-4 visas work rights during their stay in the US.

This has been an eye-sore for the Trump administration and conflicts with their agenda of ‘American jobs for American people’. If reports coming out the US ring true, the Trump administration is planning to revoke the Obama-era rule and those on H-4 visas will no longer get ‘work right’ authorization.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its Unified Fall Agenda released on 17 October said it believed abandoning the current practice of granting employment authorisation to H-4 dependent spouses would benefit US workers.

The DHS, said it was on its way to removing H-4 dependent spouses from getting work authorisation.

Spouses of H-1B visa holders taking American jobs:

In its agenda, the DHS said:

 “… US workers would benefit from this proposed rule by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that the population of the H-4 workers currently hold, as the proposed rule would no longer allow H-4 workers to enter the labour market…”  

Between May 2015 when the rule was introduced and December 25, 2017, US Citizenship and Immigration Services had approved 1, 26, 853 applications for employment authorisation for H-4 visa holders.

Kamala Harris (half Indian, half Jamaican descent) a Democrat politician alsong with another Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand–had urged the Trump administration last month to not revoke work rights of those on H-4 visas. They argued such a move would have an impact on about 100,000 women.

“Preventing women from engaging in employment can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and a loss of self-worth. Revoking a wife’s ability to work leaves her and her children entirely dependent on her spouse.

“Increased isolation–coupled with complete financial dependence—can make leaving an abusive relationship dangerous and, in some cases, impossible,” they argued.

However, the Trump administration seems to be staying on course to undo the H-4 spouse work authorization introduced by the Obama administration to the delight of many Americans on the Right.

They say Americans should come first. They further point to the fact that a lot those coming to the US on H-1B Visas, choose not to go back and join the queue for the US Green card or US permanent residency.

As of April 2018, there were 6, 32, 219 Indian immigrants and their spouses and minor children waiting for Green Cards.

Of those 60,394 Indians received Green Cards in 2017. And the maximum number – 23, 569 were issued to the employment-based preferences like those on the H-1B visas.

One website, founded by Indians living in the US, says under the current US immigration rules, skilled immigrants from India need to wait anywhere between 25-92 years for a Green Card due to per-country limits.

Obviously, giving full work rights to both partners is the ideal solution in the meantime!

Back home, the tenor of those on the Right, in light of the recent change of our PM, seems to be not cutting through. Talking to R. K. Singh, an Australian-Indian friend – who came from Northern India more than 3 decades ago and thus a die-hard supporter of migration – I was totally floored. Commenting on the growth of our cities bursting at seams, he said:

“Australia needs to think of Australians first in terms of infrastructure, employment, education and health problems we have. We do not need to totally stop migration intake – but we do need to, for at least 10 years, cut it to the bare minimum absolute skills we do not have in Australia. Our politicians are selfish – thinking only on electoral basis – what they are failing to factor in is the consequences of their actions putting themselves first – on overall society in terms of health and social well-being. A short drive to school or work in the morning now results in hypertension and nightmare…Everything we do today has a negative health quotient – which will yield negative health for whole generation…And the politicians are failing to see that coming”.

 “As far work rights – of course if temporary workers have work rights, locals will find it difficult to find jobs… All the international students we have only have 20 hours a week work right – how many of them breach that rule – almost all… and it is too difficult to police and is cost intensive…” he adds.

To our Australian friend of European descent who has been looking for work for more than two years now, RK made sense when he said partial work rights to those on student visas is understandable but full work rights to spouses of temporary workers, requires a definite re-think.

“Most certainly your own people should come first, always”, he vehemently adds.

But economics works in its own mysterious ways. Sometimes, politicians, working it – do not completely understand it. The debate goes on.

-R. VenuGopal

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