According to a recent study, the United States would gain considerable economic advantages by expanding its work authorizations for the spouses of specialty workers who received a H-1B visa.
A study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) found that H-1B visa holders typically married another skilled professional. Unfortunately, most of these spouses are not eligible to work in the United States. As such, the NFAP considers these spouses as an underutilized source of skilled workers.
Currently, spouses of H-1B visa holders can apply to work while waiting to obtain a permanent visa. However, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulation proved stricter than similar regulations in Canada, where all spouses of skilled workers receive work authorizations.
The NFAP’s study used data from the National Survey of College Graduates conducted in 2017 and 2019. In it, the NFAP found that, of the married foreign-born adults with at least a bachelor’s degree and a temporary visa, only 27% held jobs. Furthermore, the study found that almost 90% of the spouses of H-1B visa holders hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and more than half have a graduate degree.
The reason for the low rate of employment is likely to be the difficulty of obtaining work authorization. However, the DHS does permit spouses with an H-4 or dependent visa to apply for work authorization. This exception applies if their H-1B spouse has an approved immigrant petition. Also, spouses may apply if their H-1B spouse extends their status past the limit of six years on H-1B visas, has an employer who has filed a petition or permanent labor certification, and a year has passed since last filed.
However, the organization claims the US would gain significant economic benefits by making the process easier. As a result, many lawmakers have urged the DHS to do this in recent years. This support increased after the USCIS reported that processing most requests for work authorization would take longer than six months.
Earlier this year, the US Customs and Border Protection did take steps to improve work authorization odds. For example, they made entry records for spouses of various foreign executives indicating immediate employment eligibility. In addition to this change, the USCIS eliminated a rule that required spouses of work visa holders to undergo biometric screening as part of their work permit applications. Despite these changes, many argue there is still a long way to go to simplify the process.
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