September 26, 2018

Harris, Gillibrand Call on DHS and USCIS to Preserve Employment Authorization for Immigrant Women Holding H-4 Visas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director L. Francis Cissna urging them not to revoke employment authorization for roughly 100,000 high-skilled immigrant women currently covered under the “H-4 rule.” Under the rule, the women, who are mostly South Asian, are able to employ their education and professional training in the U.S. as doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers, academics, and technology professionals, amongst other careers in high-demand, skilled fields.

A court filing in August 2018 revealed that senior leadership at DHS are “actively considering” a proposal to revoke their employment authorization.

“Rescinding the H-4 rule will result in significant personal hardship to women who will be forced to abandon their professional careers,” wrote the senators. “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.”

The senators continued, “Independence and equal opportunity are fundamental American values. An action to deprive spousal H-4 visa holders the ability to continue to pursue their professional careers is antithetical to principles this country is built on. We urge you to consider the economic, psychological, and personal harms that rescinding the H-4 rule will cause to more than 100,000 professional women, their families, and their American communities.”

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

September 26, 2018

 

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

L. Francis Cissna

Director

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

 

Dear Secretary Nielsen and Director Cissna:

            In light of representations made by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an August 20, 2018 court filing that senior leadership were “actively considering” terms of a proposal to revoke the employment authorization of certain H-4 dependent spouses of nonimmigrant H-1B workers – the “H-4 rule” – we urge you to reconsider any such proposal.  A regulation that would permanently force approximately 100,000 predominantly high-skilled women to abandon their professional careers will harm the wellbeing of these women and their families and have negative consequences for American communities where they live and work.

The H-4 rule allows women who have relocated to the U.S. with their H-1B spouses to employ their education and professional training as doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers, academics, and technology professionals, amongst other careers. Many of these women work in high-demand, skilled labor fields such as medicine, STEM, and education. They provide critical services to disadvantaged and under-resourced communities. They own businesses that create American jobs. 

A revocation of the H-4 rule, in fact, would disproportionately target South Asian women.  In 2017, 94 percent of H-4 visa holders with work authorization were women and 93 percent were from India.  Currently, no more than seven percent of approximately 375,000 family and employment-based green cards issued annually can go to nationals from the same country. As a result, over 306,000 Indian applicants and 67,000 Chinese applicants whose applications have been approved are currently in line to receive a green card.  Because of the backlog, H1-B visa holders and dependent H-4 visa holders from certain countries in the U.S. are forced to wait from 12 years to an impossible 150 years to receive green cards.  

Rescinding the H-4 rule will result in significant personal hardship to women who will be forced to abandon their professional careers.  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.  

Requiring professional women to give up their careers to keep their families united will cause serious harm to their children, further. Many H-1B families live in higher-cost areas like Silicon Valley or Seattle, where having two incomes is not simply a luxury—it is a necessity.   In such areas, a second income helps parents provide essential resources and opportunities for their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens. In addition, children—particularly young girls—benefit from seeing their mothers pursue and thrive in their chosen careers. Strong, successful, female role models encourage children to set ambitious goals and be more confident in their own abilities.   Rescinding the H-4 rule would create a permanent barrier to employment—including self-employment—for these women, reinforcing a harmful stereotype that women do not belong in the workplace and widening the gender equality gap.

            Independence and equal opportunity are fundamental American values. An action to deprive spousal H-4 visa holders the ability to continue to pursue their professional careers is antithetical to principles this country is built on.  We urge you to consider the economic, psychological, and personal harms that rescinding the H-4 rule will cause to more than 100,000 professional women, their families, and their American communities. 

We hope that you will reconsider the revocation of the H-4 rule and look forward to your timely response. 

Sincerely,

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