h1b visa eligibility: Expanding work eligibility for all H-1B spouses could reap significant benefits for the US, NFAP study says

A recent study by National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) showed that expanding work eligibility criteria for the spouses of H-1B visa holders could significantly benefit the US economy.

The study revealed that dilating current work rules could provide the US with economic benefits, ease labour shortages, and attract more workers in the global competition for talent.

The study, authored by Madeline Zavodny, showed that most H-1B visa holders are married to another skilled professional, however merely a fraction of their spouses have work eligibility.

Currently, only the spouses of H-1B visa holders who are in queue for a permanent visa can apply to work, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulation.

“Spouses who hold an H-4 (dependent) visa can apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) if their H-1B spouse has obtained an approved immigrant petition (I-140) or if their H-1B spouse is extending their status beyond the 6-year limit on an H-1B visa and their employer has filed an I-140 petition or permanent labour certification and a year has passed since the filing occurred,” stated a TOI report.

Based on analysis of data from the 2017 and 2019 National Survey of College Graduates, the NFAP study highlights the following facts:

  • Only 27 per cent of married foreign-born adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree and hold a temporary dependent visa are employed. Among those who are employed, almost 40 percent work in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field.
  • Those temporary dependent visa holders, many of whom hold an H-4 visa, are overwhelmingly female (90 per cent) and predominately from India and China (67 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively). The majority have their highest degree in a STEM field (54 percent).
  • The desire for H-1B spouses to work is evident in data that show a number of foreign-born spouses of H-1B visa holders secure their own visas separate from an H-4 EAD.

NFAP’s study also analysed data from the 2017-2019 American Community Survey and found the following facts:

  • Almost 90 per cent of spouses of likely H-1B visa holders have at least a bachelor’s degree, and over half have a graduate degree.
  • Almost half of spouses of likely H-1B visa holders who have a bachelor’s degree had a STEM-related major.
  • Among spouses of likely H-1B visa holders who are employed, 42 per cent are working in a STEM field.

As per the study, allowing all spouses of H-1B visa holders to work would bring that visa in line with several other categories of skilled temporary worker visas, such as the L-1 (or intracompany transferee visa). Long delays in processing H-4 EADs have plagued US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the spouses who need the approval to work.

The spouses of H-1B visa holders who are an easily available source of skilled foreign workers are being neglected by the current US immigration policy. The spouses of H-1B visa holders tend to be highly educated, many of them in STEM fields. As per the study, allowing such H-1B visa holders to work would help recruit and retain skilled workers and increase the already-considerable economic benefits of the H-1B visa category.

ET Online

(With inputs from TOI)


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