U.S. Stands to Gain from Proposed Regulation Change for H-1B Spouses

It has been nearly five months since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced proposed regulations that would allow around 100,000 qualified H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders to obtain a Social Security number and legally work in the United States. The public comments phase closed on July 11, 2014 and a final rule has not yet been issued. The timing of a final rule is not known to the public unfortunately.

H-1B visas are reserved for foreign workers employed in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in fields that include engineering, science, computer programming and medicine. These “best and the brightest” of foreign workers contribute skills and tax dollars to the U.S., and many create jobs. And because H-4 dependent spouses also tend to be educated and skilled, they would contribute to the economy as well—that is, if they were allowed to work.

Secretary Penny Pritzker admitted as much in a post written for the White House blog shortly after the proposed visa regulations were announced in May.

“Once enacted,” wrote Pritzker, “this proposed rule would empower these spouses to put their own education and skills to work for the country that they and their families now call home.”

The current U.S. policy that prevents H-4 dependent spouses from working hurts the U.S., says David Ruiz, an associate fellow with the Brookings Institute. He told CNN this month that, “In a world where everyone is competing, other countries like Canada are more competitive in giving both spouses and high-skilled workers authorization to work as soon as they arrive.”

According to Ruiz, most spouses of H-1B visa holders are highly skilled and could contribute to the U.S. tax base.

“If authorized to work, they would [likely] be high income workers,” he said. “That means they’d be paying more taxes than the general population.”

And as Secretary Pritzker points out, many immigrants are entrepreneurs. In fact, writes Pritzker, “[Immigrants] are more than twice as likely as the native-born to start a business in the United States.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by H-1B visa holders themselves in the 60-day period during which comments for and against the proposed regulation were taken on regulations.gov.

Nearly 13,000 public comments were received on the docket entitled “Allowing Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses to Apply for Employment Authorization.”  Vivek Pandey aptly summarized arguments in favor of the DHS proposed rule:

My wife has years of very high quality work experience and can easily find employment were this rule in effect. Please bear in mind that this rule does not in any way promote the ‘low cost’ worker rhetoric that has become rampant. The kind of job that my wife and many other spouses on H4 visa compete for require a very high level of expertise and experience.

The regulation change will not only attract top talent to the USA and retain it but also tap into an additional pool of highly qualified workers that has so far been completely neglected.

When announced, it was thought that the proposal could come into effect in as few as four months, although it could take DHS as long as a year to decide.

The interim is an anxious one for H-4 dependent spouse like Rashi Bhatnagar, who’s been in the U.S. for close to six years and wants to open a business.

She told CNN, “Right now, many like me are waiting. We don’t know the timeline.”

If you have questions about the pending H-4 rule changes impacting H-4 spouses —or any other H-1B immigration law issues—please contact Denver immigration attorney Catherine Brown at 302-322-2117 or contact us online.


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