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Joe Biden has started walking the talk on his H-1B campaign promises

US President Biden holds coronavirus response event at the White House in Washington
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Undoing the damage.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published

Joe Biden has started delivering on his campaign promises to immigrants on the coveted H-1B visa.

On Jan. 25, the newly appointed American president withdrew a proposal to disallow dependents of H-1B holders on H-4 visas to work in the US.

The immigrant community is breathing a sigh of relief after four years of anxiety brought on by Donald Trump whose administration had taken work permits for H-1B spouses to the guillotine at the very start of its tenure.

H-4 under attack under Trump

Spouses of H-1B workers were first awarded the right to be gainfully employed by the Barack Obama administration in 2015.

This cohort is one to reckon with: Nearly 60% of those living in the US as dependents of their spouses have professional or graduate degrees of their own; 49% have an individual income upwards of $75,000, a survey of over 2,400 people by advocacy group Save H4 EAD revealed.

But in 2017, the department of homeland security (DHS) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced the “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization” rule.

Those on the H-4 visa—nine in 10 of whom are highly-skilled women from India—already struggled to maintain jobs, insurance—and their sanity—under Trump.

“Preventing women from engaging in employment can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and a loss of self-worth,” vice president Kamala Harris, then a senator from California, had argued in a September 2018 letter.

Biden’s H-4 reform

Of course, this is only the first step. There are still kinks in the system that need ironing out. For instance, the process to secure work authorisation is long and onerous. In June 2019, a bunch of applicants banded together to sue the government over unwarranted delays.

That still remains a hindrance, one hopeful Poonam VR wrote on the Facebook group “H4 visa, a curse”:

Good news that its revoke is withdrawn but taking months to years to get H-4. (T)ook 7 months and H-4 EAD, it’s already been 4 months. Confused how it is helping revoking withdrawn but not sticking to their initial plan of 90 days. Many people I know have to leave jobs as EAD never comes on time. Hope this would be solved. Fingers crossed .

This cloud of uncertainty hangs over the heads of several others, with many careers being stifled for no reason except visa woes.

Most of those suffering are long-term US residents, originally from India, who have been stuck in a decades-long green card backlog that they did not foresee when they first moved to the “land of opportunity.”

Furthermore, dependent kids of Indians face a larger looming threat courtesy of this green card limbo. If their parent’s green card doesn’t come through before they turn 21, they “age out.” They then have to switch to student or work visas to stay in the US, or face deportation.

Biden is sending to Congress The US Citizenship Act of 2021, which, among other things, “provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorisation, and children are prevented from ‘aging out’ of the system,” immigration attorney Garganigo, Goldsmith & Weiss said in a note on Jan. 27. But getting it approved is still a ways away.

As for the H-1B workers themselves, they’re still waiting on Biden to reverse last year’s freeze on travel for H-1B workers that Trump extended until March 31. And beyond that, too, they have a long list of asks.

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