Indians protesting against the proposed ban on H4 visa in Washington D.C. (Source: Skilled Immigrants in America)

H4 Visa Shift: Constant Threat Of Losing The Right To Work In U.S. 

Sangeeta Bandal, who had completed her master’s in special education in the U.S., secured a job at a New Jersey school on an H1-B visa in 2013. It hadn’t been easy though as employers were not willing to process her visa then. “Getting a job was the most difficult phase of my life,” she said.

Bandal worked at the school for three years, but it was a long commute and she felt unsafe. She wanted something closer home. When she couldn’t find one, Bandal decided to pursue her second master’s program in the U.S.

Having completed her learning disabilities teacher-consultant degree earlier this year, she landed a job in another school in New Jersey, and is scheduled to join when the session begins in September. But Bandal is worried that she may lose that job without even working for a day.

That’s because President Donald Trump plans to end the Obama-era rule that allows holders of H4 visas like her to work. They are mostly spouses of skilled professionals with H-1B visas. Bandal’s husband Vishwas is a senior software engineer working on an H-1B visa at Infinity Infotech.

More than 1 lakh people, mostly Indian spouses, work on H4 visas in the U.S., according to a study by Christopher Cunningham, professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and Pooja Vijayakumar, a PhD researcher at the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick, Ireland.

The impact of the visa shift won’t be just monetary. Their research found that it would likely isolate spouses socially and cause domestic tension. If the U.S. goes ahead with the plan, IT organisations and businesses will have to come up with a plan to support the spouses to prevent, or at least minimise, exodus of highly talented IT workforce, they said.

Companies, according to Vijayakumar, are looking at shifting their offices to countries that are more visa friendly for expats. The number of visa applications for Canada, which allows couples to work, has jumped threefold. Even Bandal considers that her “Plan B”. So technology industry groups like FWD.us—comprising the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Google—have pushed back at Trump’s visa shift.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began the process of reversing the eligibility of H-1B spouses to work in December. But the Trump administration failed to meet its deadline for the second time this year to issue the notification. Still, for some there’s a constant threat of losing their right to work, Vijayakumar said.