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Future of H-4 Visas In Doubt

The H-1B visa has got a lot of attention in part because the window to enter the H-1B lottery approaches, but also because its future is unclear. While still a candidate for president, Donald Trump spoke out against the use of H-1B visas to bring immigrants to America to fill jobs that he contended could and should be filled by Americans. His “Buy American and Hire American” executive order last year called for departments to do what they could to reduce the reliance on immigrant workers, and last fall, the Department of Homeland Security responded by “proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorization,” according to a regulatory agenda item. 

H-4 visas are typically issued to the spouses and children of temporary workers who receive H-1B status. The visa relies on the recipient of the H-1B remaining in status, and the holders’ length of stay cannot exceed that of the person with the H-1B. 

The H-4 visa allows H-1B recipients to bring their families to the United States to live with them for the duration of their stay. Dean Garfield, the president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, argues that the H-4 is indirectly connected to America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace: 

Giving high-skilled immigrants the peace of mind knowing that they can move their families to the United States, and their spouses can make an honest living and provide for their family not only keeps families together but also bolsters the United States' ability to compete globally, incentivizing innovators and job creators to come here to work instead of other countries.

The proposed change would disproportionately affect women, who make up the majority of H-4 recipients. Since 2015, USCIS had approved almost 105,000 work permits to those holding H-4 visas, which doesn’t even make up three percent of the work permits granted during that time.

Right now, those with or applying for H-4 visas are faced with the uncertainty many immigrants deal with under our current administration. The change proposed has not been officially adopted, and the administration plans to wait until June to make a final decision. In the meantime, DHS will investigate the economic repercussions of the proposed change.

Those working in the U.S. on an H-4 visa may wish to explore seeking H-1B status for themselves, or they may wish to see if other visa types might be available to them. Those who wish to do so should get advice from a reputable immigration attorney.


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