BENGALURU: US president Donald Trump has been attempting to stop work permits for spouses of those on H-1B visas. It won’t be easy. But were he to succeed, the overwhelming impact would be on Indian women. And Cato Institute, a US public policy research organisation, estimates it would contract the US economy by at least $7.5 billion annually.
David J Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Centre for Global Liberty and Prosperity, says in a blog that nearly 90% of H-4 workers (spouses of H-1Bs get the H-4 visa) are highly paid women from India with college degrees. He says if Trump succeeded and if the move encouraged their H-1B families to leave the country, the impact would be more than double the $7.5 billion estimated for women ceasing to work.
H-4 visas have been around for decades. But for much of that period, there was no specific mention of their eligibility for employment in the US. In 2015, the Obama administration created an employment authorisation document (EAD) provision for H-4 to encourage those on H-1Bs to stay on in the US (if spouses find it difficult to work, then it disincentivises H-1Bs – who tend to be highly talented specialists – from staying on).
EADs are given to H-4s only if their H-1B spouses are being sponsored by their employers to obtain permanent residence in the US.
Cato Institute estimates that out of about 500,000 spouses who are in the US on H-4, some 90,000 today have work authorisations.
Bier says nearly two thirds of H-4 visa holders sponsored by employers for permanent residence from 2015 to 2020 worked in computer and math occupations. And nearly two thirds of those were software developers. Indian male engineers on H-1Bs are clearly tending to marry equally qualified women who then join their husbands in the US on H-4s.
Bier says the median wage for H-4 visa holders sponsored by employers for permanent residence in 2019 was $111,632. This, he says, compares to the median wage offer of $113,022 for H-1B workers in the same position and $53,490 for all US workers. His estimate of the loss of $7.5 billion is based on these salary and work authorisation numbers.
Indians dominate H-4s because they dominate H-1Bs. About 70% of H-1Bs go to Indians. Yet, in 2020, the Indian share of H-4s was even higher at 87%. This, Bier says, may be because Indian H-1Bs receiving permanent residence in 2020 spent at least a decade and, in many cases, as long as 15 years before receiving legal permanent residence (or green cards). Indians wait longer because of the country quota for green cards.
There are far more Indians applying for it relative to the quota for India. “This (long wait) means that they have more reasons to get married while in H-1B status and bring over Indian spouses in H-4 status,” Bier says.