60 of the world's largest tech companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a broad array of prestigious business advocacy groups have joined forces in a coalition to push the Trump administration to drop it's published plans to halt work permits for the spouses of highly skilled H1B workers.
H1B visa holders consist of doctors, engineers, coders and talented scientists recruited by U.S. companies to fill the severe shortage of qualified U.S. workers. The H-4 employment work authorization (EAD) allows the dependent spouses of H1B employees to work as well. If Trump administration plans are implemented, H1B employee dependent spouses – many of whom are highly skilled women and men as well – could lose their jobs. Just announcing these plans has caused immigration lawyers to receive scores of calls from distressed families involved and the companies that employ them.
Misguided plan unites many of the world's largest companies
In a letter dated January 17, 2018, the coalition urged the Trump Administration to maintain the H-4 EAD program because of its benefits to the American economy. They made the case that rescinding this program would harm America’s economic competitiveness and hinder efforts to recruit and retain the most qualified employees.
The list of signatories on the coalition letter includes a who's who list of the world's most valuable and innovative companies and prestigious advocacy groups:
- The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) - a key tech industry group representing over 60 of the world's largest tech companies including: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, Toshiba, Toyota, and Qualcomm.
- BSA | The Software Alliance
- Compete America
- Council for Global Immigration
- FWD.us - a tech advocacy group backed by Mark Zuckerberg & major tech leaders
- National Association of Manufacturers
- Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA)
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Coalition outlines their case in a letter to USCIS
“We represent employers who are committed to growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs for American workers. However, we cannot achieve these goals unless companies can recruit and retain the most qualified employees,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Lee Francis Cissna, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The letter stressed that spouses are “eager to work in order to support their families, contribute to their communities by paying taxes, and utilize their skills to help the U.S. economy grow.”
The H-4 work authorizations have “limited unnecessary disruptions to businesses by ameliorating economic and personal hardships...previously faced by many H-1B employees and their families.” That’s largely caused by limits on the number of immigrants by country and enormous waiting queues for processing permanent resident applications.
They point out that ending the H-4 program could force many skilled foreigners to reconsider their plans to come to the U.S. “Employers would also face an increased risk that their valued, long-term employees will choose to leave their companies for other employment opportunities in countries that allow these workers and their families to raise their standard of living,” the coalition continued.
Many hope this is another Trump plan that will be dropped
The targeting of H1B spouses is just one of the Trump administration's highly controversial plans to remake the rules surrounding legal immigration. The administration was forced to abandon another plan to force the self deportation of over 500,000 H1B workers in January after withering business and Congressional blow back. And top U.S. venture capital firms have sued the Trump administration for delaying a program meant to help international entrepreneurs come to the US.
The process to eliminate H-4 EAD would be protracted
If the Trump administration actually publishes a rule to eliminate H-4 EAD, there will be a public feedback process where all parties would have an opportunity to voice their thoughts. But it is an ominous sign that the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration biases continue to foster noxious policy initiatives.
While the administration loudly proclaims an “America First” philosophy, there’s nothing pro-American about letting our multi-billion-dollar tech industry be held back by a serious shortage of skilled workers. Nor is denying hard-working, often highly skilled, H1B spouses the opportunity to contribute to our economy, care for their families and be productive members of society.
Full text of coalition letter to USCIS
January 17, 2018
The Honorable Lee Francis Cissna
Director U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
20 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20529
Re: Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses
Dear Director Cissna:
Our organizations write to express our strong support of the Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses Rule (H-4 rule), which was published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a final rule on February 25, 2015, and went into effect on May 26, 2015. As the Trump Administration conducts its review of the H-4 rule, we respectfully encourage you and your colleagues to maintain the program given its importance to the business community and to the American economy.
As you are aware, the H-4 rule extends employment authorization eligibility for a limited subset of H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant employees seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status¹. Individuals looking to obtain H-4 authorization already legally reside in the United States and are on the path to permanent residency. They are also eager to work in order to support their families, contribute to their communities by paying taxes, and utilize their skills to help the U.S. economy grow. In fact, these individuals would already have adjusted to permanent status if they were simply from a different country and not otherwise penalized by arbitrary per-country limits. It is a function of the failure to reform our nation’s immigration system that this group of H-4 spouses—the majority of whom are women—continue to face uncertainty and may be prevented from working while they wait for bureaucratic backlogs to be cleared.
We represent employers who are committed to growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs for American workers. However, we cannot achieve these goals unless companies can recruit and retain the most qualified employees. In 2016, there were approximately 3.3 million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) job openings posted online.² By contrast, in that same year, U.S. universities graduated 568,000 students with STEM degrees.³ To meet this job demand, it is vital that we not only provide STEM education and training to more U.S. children, workers, and college students, but that we also recruit the top talent from U.S. universities and from abroad. The H-4 rule is instrumental in allowing U.S. employers to fill these critical positions with qualified professionals. Our companies employ individuals whose work authorizations stem not only from H-1B visas, but H-4 visas as well. The H-4 rule represents a valuable but targeted opportunity for us to not just attract and retain talent, but to promote immigration to the United States on the basis of one’s skills and merit. This rule also places the United States on par with foreign competitors, such as Canada and Australia, that allow accompanying spouses to work.
The H-4 rule has limited unnecessary disruptions to businesses by ameliorating economic and personal hardships—resulting from the lack of spousal work authorization—previously faced by many H-1B employees and their families as they obtain LPR status. As of October 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that there are an estimated 133,502 individuals with pending employment-based adjustment of status applications in the United States.⁴ The current demand for visas under certain employment-based preference categories and the application of the per-country quotas currently produce wait times of a decade or more for certain individuals and their families. Ultimately, a legislative solution is required to remove the per-country limits that have caused this green card backlog. In the interim, H-4 visa holders from oversubscribed countries would wait years to work without the H-4 rule. Employers would also face an increased risk that their valued, long-term employees will choose to leave their companies for other employment opportunities in countries that allow these workers and their families to raise their standard of living. This will not only force businesses to incur added costs and endure the disruptions associated with having to fill these key positions in their companies, but it also creates uncertainty that negatively affects long-term workforce planning.
This limited subset of H-4 spouses has a further direct, positive impact on the American economy in that these individuals often have experience and education in vital occupations—from academic researchers, to medical technicians and professionals, to the owners of small businesses who help create jobs for Americans.⁵
Our companies are united on the overarching goal to preserve, improve, and expand the pipeline of American STEM workers. In the meantime, we need to address concerns within the existing workforce and the current skills shortage to grow our economy, and H-4 work authorization helps us meet these objectives. As the administration reviews the H-4 rule, we stand ready to work with you to pursue policies that preserve predictability and fairness for employers and employees while protecting American workers.
Thank you for considering our views.
BSA | The Software Alliance
Council for Global Immigration
Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)
National Association of Manufacturers
Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA)
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
cc: The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Letter published here.