HOUSTON – Living in limbo is a continued in-depth series by KPRC 2 that delves into the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of Indian women in the United States who stand to lose work authorization if President Donald Trump’s administration changes one rule. This series was made possible by a fellowship grant from the South Asian Journalists Association’s SAJA Reporting Fellowship Program. Read the full series here.
What is the H-4 visa?
When highly-skilled immigrants come to the United States for work, it is often on a visa called H-1B. Under this visa status, they are considered temporary, non-immigrant workers. Their visa is valid for up to three years and if they want to continue working in the United States, they have to apply for extensions.
If the worker’s spouse and children move here as well, they are granted a dependent visa called H-4 which is more restrictive. On this visa, spouses and children can study but not work.
How many H-4 visas have been granted?
Between 1997 and 2017, the U.S. government issued more than 1.7 million H-4 visas with more than 1 million issued to people from India.
What is an EAD?
President Barack Obama’s administration introduced an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in 2015 for which H-4 visa holders who are on the road to becoming permanent residents may apply.
After it was introduced in 2015, the number of EAD applications have increased each year as more people learn about the program and become eligible to apply. As of 2018, almost 170,000 EADs have been issued to H-4 visa holders.
So far, 93% of the H-4 EAD applications have been made by women and about 91.8% of the applicants are Indian, according to data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
How many H-4 visa-holders have EADs?
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service says that more than 160,000 employment authorization documents have been granted to H-4 visa holders between 2015 and 2018. Here’s a break down:
So far, 93% of the H-4 EAD applications have been made by women and about 91.8% of the applicants are Indian, according to USCIS.
Why is the EAD in jeopardy?
In April 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling on companies to “Buy American, Hire American.”
The goal of Trump’s executive order was to “create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States and to protect their economic interests.”
To fulfill the requirements of “Buy American, Hire American,” Trump asked the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security to propose new rules and issue new guidance that would protect the interests of American workers and combat immigration fraud.
Under the leadership of former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Kristjen Nielsen, the department announced it will consider changing the rule that allows H-4 visa holders to apply for work authorization. Nielsen resigned in April 2019 and current Acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, has kept the rule change consideration on the agenda.
How does this affect Houston?
There is a significant number of immigrants on H-1B and H-4 visas in the Greater Houston area. In 2017, more than 1 in 4 residents of Fort Bend County were born in a different country and the second most common country of origin -- after Mexico -- was India. Harris County has a similar demographic breakdown with nearly a third of the population being foreign-born.
“Houston’s economic future is critically dependent on continued immigration,” the report found. “Immigrants already comprise of nearly one-third of the region’s workforce. We calculate that employment growth among native citizens below 2 percent, Houston will need foreign immigration to continue expanding economically.”
The report states that “curtailing immigration would significantly depress economic growth.”