Pedestrians walk towards the San Jose Diridon Transit Center in San Jose. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Tech Group Says U.S. Unlikely to Back Off on H-1B Spouses Rule

(Bloomberg) -- A technology industry group said the delay of a Trump administration proposal to rescind work permits for spouses of high-skilled foreign workers isn’t likely to lead to any change in plans to end the program.

The Department of Homeland Security said this week it’s delaying issuing a proposal to remove work eligibility of H-1B spouses, citing the need to perform a new economic analysis, according to a Feb. 28 court filing. The filing was in connection with a suit filed by an advocacy group, Save Jobs USA, which argued that DHS doesn’t have the right to grant work permits without congressional approval.

“In the short term, it helped. In the long run, we think they are still moving forward with the rescinding rule,” said Andy Halataei, senior vice president of government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, which counts Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google among its members. He said the delay shows the agency is "refining their economic arguments" for removing the work eligibility of spouses of H-1B visa recipients.

DHS had planned to rescind the rule, put in place by President Barack Obama’s administration, in February. It would be one of the agency’s early steps to regulate high-skilled immigration as President Donald Trump pushes his “America First” agenda.

The tech industry had lobbied against the change, saying that it would undermine U.S. companies’ ability to attract foreign workers and that their spouses, who are granted H-4 visas under the program, don’t take jobs from American workers.

FWD.us, a tech industry group advocating for immigration, said in a statement that it was “encouraged” by the delay and urged the administration to “take action immediately to keep this rule in place.”

Under current rules, the H-1B program allows companies to hire high-skilled workers from overseas, with 85,000 visas available annually. More than 104,000 spouses have been granted work authorization since the H-4 visa rule was enacted under Obama, according to DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Trump administration has been moving to tighten the program with Trump directing federal agencies to award visas only to "the most skilled and highest-paid" applicants.

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