The H-1B Spouses Issue Is Back

Spouses of H-1B visa holders can live in the U.S. under the H-4 visa. However, until former President Obama issued an executive order, the spouses were not allowed to work. A group of American H-1B victims then sued against the order, arguing among other things that Obama had exceeded his authority in issuing the order.

All of this is reviewed in an article in yesterday’s Washington Post (or, as a reporter recently joked to me, the Amazon Post, alluding to the paper’s owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos), reporting that the ball is now in President Trump’s court: Trump could, for example, decline to defend against the suit, presumably giving the plaintiffs victory by default. (I say “presumably,” because I can envision the judge overturning the result).

Though the Post article is biased, there is some merit to the headline, “Obama gave these legal immigrants permission to work. Trump may take it away.” In terms of public perception of fairness, there is indeed something bully-like in revoking a privilege; many would have considered it fair if Obama had decided not to grant the H-1Bs work privileges, but revoking it would be considered unfair.

My position on the H-4 work issue has been that they should have the right to work, but they should be counted in the H-1B cap. Congressional intent in the H-1B statute was to limit the number of foreign workers in “specialty occupations” (basically those that normally require a bachelor’s degree or more), and since many of the H-4s are in STEM or other specialty occupations as is the woman profiled in the Post article, it makes sense to count them in the cap. (And, as usual, I must add that the H-4s, like their spouses, are mainly young, so the age discrimination issue that is core to H-1B applies here too.)

Again with a view of post facto fairness, the Trump administration could grandfather current H-4s.

On another point, while the Post is free to slant its news in whatever political direction it desires, and SHOULD do so, this passage is absolutely outrageous:

Miano is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank which the Southern Poverty Law Center recently condemned as a “hate group” for churning out a “constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation” about immigrants.

SPLC began is an organization aiming to improve conditions for impoverished African-Americans in the South. But apparently at some point they noticed that they could increase their funding by branching out to promoting immigration. Fine, but it’s not fine for the Post to promote fake news. I’ve known the people at CIS for years, and they are certainly not a hate group in any sense. The Post, if it had any sense of ethical journalism, would check this out once and for all, and assuming they found the SPLC charge baseless, would stop writing about it.

31 thoughts on “The H-1B Spouses Issue Is Back

  1. > My position on the H-4 work issue has been that they should have the right to work, but they should be counted in the H-1B cap.

    Agreed. I saw the Post article yesterday and left the following comment at 8:52 PM:

    > One obvious approach would be to let the spouse of an H-1B worker work but to count it against the H-1B cap. This should at least be done when the spouse is a STEM worker or, at the very least, for a computer worker. As can be seen at , about two-thirds of H-1B visas go to computer workers. American programmers have already lost their jobs at Disney, UCSF, and numerous other companies. This campaign against the American programmer needs to stop.

    It seems obvious that an H-4 worker working at the same type of job as their H-1B spouse will have the same affect on American workers and should be counted against the H-1B cap. What’s surprising is that so few commentators acknowledge this fact.


  2. Two points : 200,000 current H4 workers and these individuals can work in any job not just H-1B qualifying jobs.

    I am also frustrated that a advocacy group of primarily guest workers is given access to our elected officials that American workers do not seem to have. My senator is clueless about the H-1B visa program; he believes, according to his response to my contacting him, that an employer may hire an H-1B worker only when there is no American to fill the job. DOL series 62 fact sheets proved this is not the case. He believes guest workers statements over those of a native born American.

    If it was important for both members of a couple to work, they either needed for both to obtain H-1B visas or to settle where it is legal for both to do so.

    It is no different from one member of an American couple being transferred to s location where the other cannot work. Case in point: my SIL is in the military; DD is an attorney licensed in state A and not able to practice in other states without passing the bar in those. So in spite of having clerked for an state appeals court judge for a number of years and being a member of her school’s law review, she is unemployable where they have moved because of her DH’s orders. Another family member by marriage is a teacher with similar licensing problem as well as job security with tenure. If they are going to make exceptions for H-1B workers, they should make the same exceptions for military spouses – and for careers resulting in tenure, require that to be granted as well.


    • The actual number should be considerably less than 200,000, but still it is a lot of people when one considers the difficult some well-qualified people have in getting work in their field.


  3. I should have noted that 200,000 jobs is more than the number of jobs created in most months. The rule of thumb in the past has been there needed to be 150,000 jobs created every month just for new workers entering the workforce; this does not include the jobs needed for those who are unemployed due to their positions being eliminated at their former employer.


  4. The SPLC has morphed into a “hate group” of its own — they hate anyone who is not left-of-center. Too bad, because as you said, Norm, they had a fine start. I think this tends to happen to a lot of organizations that don’t want to become victims of their own success — they cannot imagine a sunset and eventual disappearance with “mission accomplished”, and they would rather find new turf to defend before that happens.


    • Reading SPLC’s web site, SPLC seems to presume living in the US is a human right. ?!?!
      AND, if there is a group that doesn’t agree with that, they’re “anti-immigrant” and therefore a “hate group”. ?!?!


  5. In years past, the times spent on H-1B and H4 were totals towards the 6 year limit. Since these have been decoupled and an individual can spend 6 years max on each, a person can be in the US on H-1B and H4 for 12 years before having to leave for a year to be able to acquire another 6 year eligibility for both programs.

    They say it is a matter of fairness since L1 and J1 dependents can work; I say make it so NO dependent visa holders can work. That puts all dependents on an equal basis.

    Another thing that is extremely unfair is that a dependent of a guest worker can enter the US after marriage without a delay waiting for a visa number and there is no need to prove a long term relationship. The newly married spouse or the fiancee of a US citizen is subject to review for a legitimate (i.e. not for an immigration benefit alone) relationship and must wait to be processed for a green card or fiance visa. The spouse of a green card holder must wait even longer for a visa to become available. You would think that US citizen and permanent resident spouses would be a higher priority than spouses of a guest worker who is choosing to come to the US to work.

    Immigration reform is needed on many levels.


    • Good point about the H4 spouse process. My wife came in as an H4 spouse. She was able to enter the country immediately, although it did take some time to get work permission. Is it unfair? I believe so. I was actually eligible for a green card before I was married to her, but our lawyers advised us to hold off since it would be a much tougher process if I received a green card first. When a system has such different outcomes from a simple reordering of procedures there is an issue.


  6. Since Trump revoked many Obama era executive orders like fuel efficiency CAFE standards, it is unclear to me why H4 issue isn’t settled yet.

    Unlike changes to H1, this doesn’t need congressional involvement. As many mentioned here, there is nothing preventing qualified H4 spouses from applying for H1-B every year.


  7. I have no connection to this CIS thing whatsoever, but nontheless, I guess that *I* might qualify as a “hate group” too, because I hate the way that dodgy propaganda is constantly used by monied interests (e.g. Bezos) to try to undercut the wages of American workers by importing cheaper and younger foreigners to replace them.

    Maybe we… i.e. all of like mind… should band together and draft and send an open letter to SPLC… and to the New York Times… saying that we also, in our equally unelected authority, have likewise determined that the SPLC is worthy of our “official” (and thus irrefutable) designation as a “hate group” since they apparently hate the idea of U.S. citizens who are anything less than appreciative of the opportunity to be put out of work by cheaper foreign workers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In India persons with an H-1B are highly coveted in the marriage market. Allowing a spouse to work makes them even more coveted. In one case a guy from India ran into problems with his H-1B visa. His plans to marry were canceled.

    Both husband and wife can each apply for an H-1B visa. Only one needs to win the “lottery” for both of them work in the US. Perhaps employers prefer married job seekers so they can double their chances of getting a guest worker.


  9. The work authorization is not given for all H1 Spouses.It is for people from backlogged countries waiting for their permanent residence. The wait time currently is more than 70 years. This is a stop gap fix till any reform is implemented.


  10. Not all H1b dependents are granted work authorization. US issues fixed amount of green cards each year and there is a 7% cap based on country of birth. Several people are stuck in this green card backlog. They are all future US citizens. Their petitions have already been approved by CIS after a very thorough review for eligibility, impact on US jobs etc. Spouses (not even kids) of such individuals were granted work authorization. Due process was followed before rule was approved. It took more than 2 years to finalize this rule.


      • What do you think about separating skilled, legal, tax paying immigrants based on their birth country instead of putting everyone in first come first serve basis? After all those skills were determined to be needed following congress approved procedure.


  11. I think letting spouses work in supermarkets and neighborhood stores would be a positive step towards assimilating IT workers. With husbands cloistered in Indian-dominated companies and wives back home spending their days talking with family or other Indian friends, the risk of economic sabotage is higher. They have little incentive to explore American culture or develop positive attitudes towards the society.

    Is there a way to restrict non-H1B spouses from working in the IT sector?


    • Remember, the policy applies only to those in line for green cards. The vast majority of STEM people who get green cards do integrate into U.S. society. The degree to which they do so does vary, but generally it’s pretty good.


      • For now. As a former H1B who has a wide network of H1Bs, I can tell you that almost none of my fellow travelers cares very much about the USA apart from the work opportunities. I think it was Charles Hugh Smith who warned that the USA was developing two cultures, one of which was a fairly mercenary and mobile technocratic class (the members of which have little attachment to their country of residence). I am surrounded by immigrant workers who like the USA, but who don’t necessarily have any long term interest in its success. But sure, they pay taxes, buy houses, vote Democrat and seem ‘integrated’ on the surface. It depends on what you mean by ‘integration’. Lots of guest workers go to Singapore, bury their heads, obey the law and work hard. Then they go home.


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