The Trump Administration’s Visa Rules Are an Attack on Immigrant Women

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that the Trump administration intends to stop issuing employment authorization documents (EAD) to H-4 visa holders, who are the spouses and dependents of H-1B temporary workers.

A 2015 Obama-era rule change granted certain H-4 visa holders the right to work legally while awaiting a green card; previously, many of these also highly-educated spouses of H-1B visa holders were stuck at home, unable to use their skills. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already made clear that he does not intend to enforce this rule—and now the Trump administration is going even further to rescind the measure, declaring that employers should instead “buy American and hire American.”

Since the majority of H-1B visa holders are men, we can presume that women will be the ones hurt most by changes to the H-4 visa. For women who have spent years training and working before migrating, the H-4 EAD rule change was a chance to reignite their stalled careers. In 2016, more than 41,000 work authorizations for qualified women already in the U.S. were approved. As of June 2017, 36,000 more were approved according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Work restrictions have an impact on H-4 visa holders’ careers, mental health and sense of belonging. A woman who migrated with her spouse and had a computer engineering degree shared her frustration about waiting for the right to work. “I wanted to come to the United States so I could start my own career,” she told Ms. “But now, I am sitting at home, with nothing to do. Every day is like a jail.”

As Amazon, a major participant in the H-1B visa program, continues to vet cities across the United States to expand its second headquarters, the demand for highly skilled workers will only grow. Promising to create more than 50,000 well-paying jobs, companies like Amazon are on the hunt for the best sources of talent. Ignoring the tens of thousands of women already in the U.S. with the right qualifications makes little sense—especially when the pool of highly skilled workers is already shrinking.

Limiting H-4 visa holders in order to encourage employers to “hire American” ignores how the multi-billion dollar global high tech market actually functions. Instead of tapping into the specialized skills of highly educated H-4 visa holders, the Department of Homeland Security is shutting doors to potential employees who are already here and more than willing to join this workforce.

In February 2018, a public comment period will open at the Department of Homeland Security about these rule changes and other immigration policies. Don’t let the Trump administration take the power to work away from more women. Stand up, speak up and fight back.

Dr. Amy Bhatt is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Her research focuses on the effects of migration on gender and families. She is the author of High-Tech Housewives: Indian IT Workers, Gendered Labor, and Transmigration and the co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.

Catalina Sofia Dansberger Duque is a interviewer, writer and speaker. She focuses on people who have chosen to breathe life into challenging situations and live a life filled with love, joy and passion despite overwhelming stereotypes. Catalina is a Communication Manager for the Humanities & Social Sciences at UMBC. She has contributed to Huffington Post, UpWorthy and Gay Family Trips, among others.

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