In a bid to draw in the best talents from around the world, the United States government has announced that a slew of policy reforms and initiatives are in the pipeline. The changes to existing rules that are being formulated are being watched closely by a growing population of housewives: As spouses of H-1B visa holders in the U.S., the reforms may soon open new vistas for them by allowing them to work.
In a statement issued by the White House on Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is coming up with a set of rules that are aimed at giving the country an image that is attractive to immigrants, be it be entrepreneurs or high-skilled persons. The rationale being these talented foreigners would bolster the U.S. economy, create employment opportunities and step-up American innovation. The proposed policy initiatives and changes are of particular relevance to the spouses of high skilled H-1B workers under particular categories: They include rules that will make employment a possibility for these people.
The proposed reforms are part of an ongoing DHS endeavor to overhaul the present system of immigration. They will complement DHS measures aimed at increasing transparency, streamlining and eliminating inefficiency in the way the system functions. The launch of Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource center that caters to entrepreneurs among immigrants is an example. The resource center provides such immigrants with an intuitive method to discover opportunities to establish and expand a business.
However, it is not all good news. The proposed employment authorization meant for the spouses of H-1B workers is not all-encompassing. In other words, not all H-1B visa holders may have working spouses. Going by the White House statement, it seems that only those spouses of H-1B visa holders who fall under a certain classification may qualify for employment. Those that seem most likely to get the green signal come under the science and technology header.
The people who have mostly benefited from the H-1B work visas offered by the U.S. government are Indian Information Technology (IT) professionals. For the fiscal year 2015 that begins on October 1, 2014, the Congress has mandated a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas which can be allotted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The existing cap has kicked up opinions that it reflected a federal policy that was not in touch with the reality. The reality being a shortage of these sought after visas. In fact, the cap has remained the same since 1990.
Many observers are of the opinion that the U.S. government must immediately increase the cap. They cite what happened in 2013, when employers in the U.S. issuing work visas reached the maximum number allowed within the first week of filing season. At this rate, employers may well cross the total number of petitions filed last year in a jiffy this year too. This places the government in an untenable position where it regresses to holding lotteries that randomly pick employers to receive work visas in the upcoming fiscal year.
The sustainable way forward in this situation is for the House of Representatives to pass a bill that increases the general cap to 155,000 with 40,000 more visas for those with an advanced degree. The bill, co-authored by Robert Goodlatte and Darrell Issa, is already on the right track and will step-up the cap on H-1B visas without any fine print. It will also double the allocation meant for advanced degree holders. Coupled with the policy reforms, that could possibly mean working spouses for H-1B visa holders, the bill could turn tables for the immigration system in the U.S.
Opinion by Aruna Iyer