Trump administration weighs ending work program for the spouses of H-1B visa holders

Express News

News Desk|Updated 

The Trump administration this week moved forward a proposal to end an Obama-era work authorization program for the spouses of H-1B visa holders — a move that would largely impact Indian women living and working in Silicon Valley.

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday delivered a report to the White House outlining how the rollback would work, and what its impacts might be. The White House is expected to gather additional input from other government agencies before gathering public comments. It’s still unclear when the rollback would take place.

President Trump has repeatedly targeted the H-4 work authorization program, which his predecessor introduced in 2015. That program allowed nearly 91,000 spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally work in the U.S.

A 2018 government analysis of the program showed a little over 28,000 spouses were working in California, largely centered in Silicon Valley. More than 90 percent of the spouses working on an H-4 visa were Indian, and 93 percent were women.

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook last year wrote a letter to the Trump administration opposing the move, saying ending the H-4 work authorization program would make the U.S. a less desirable destination for H-1B visa holders, many of whom are highly educated engineers. Apple hired a little more than 2,000 H-1B visa holders in 2017.

The H-1B visa program allows some 85,000 highly skilled workers into the U.S. each year on temporary work visas. The workers in this group hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and are largely hired by technology companies.

In 2017, Mountain View-based Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., hired a little more than 2,700 H-1B visa holders alone, paying them an average of $134,000 per year.

Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Facebook Inc. each hired at least 1,500 H-1B visa holders each that year, paying them an average of between $104,000 per year (Intel) and nearly $145,000 (Facebook).

Critics of the H-1B visa program, and by extension, the H-4 work authorization program, argue that hiring highly-skilled immigrant workers depresses the wages of American workers.