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Lawmakers, business leaders flood DHS with dissent on revoking work authorization for immigrant spouses

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 22:  A new American citizen poses for photos following a naturalization service on January 22, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. Although much of the federal government was shut down Monday morning, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), offices remained open nationwide.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 22: A new American citizen poses for photos following a naturalization service on January 22, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. Although much of the federal government was shut down Monday morning, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), offices remained open nationwide. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (2018 Getty Images)

HOUSTONLiving 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.

After President Donald Trump’s administration announced it was looking to revoke work authorization granted to more than 100,000 spouses of H1-B visa-holders, letters poured in to the office of Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

At least 148 lawmakers have sent letters so far, asking that the department reconsider revoking employment authorization for these spouses, nearly all of whom are women of Indian origin.

Lawmakers’ letters

One bipartisan letter, sent in May 2018, was signed by 132 U.S. Representatives and was among the larger concerted efforts by Members of Congress to stop work authorization from being revoked. Six Texas Democrats, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Waco) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), signed the letter. No Texas Republicans joined in, though there were 14 Republican representatives from around the country who did.

“Rescinding the rule will hurt the competitiveness of U.S. employers and the U.S. economy, as well as H-4 accompanying spouses and their families,” the lawmakers wrote. “We strongly urge you to reconsider this action.”

The representatives went on to say that many of the H-1B workers and their spouses on the way to getting a green card are parents of American citizens or future citizens. The ability to have a dual-income family would help families provide the basic needs of these citizens.

“It is an American value that everyone — regardless of gender — deserves to be able to use and enhance their skills, be financially self-sufficient, thrive mentally and physically, and pursue their dreams. Moreover, the majority of H-4 spouses are women, and their inability to work widens an already existing gender inequality gap,” the representatives wrote.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31:  U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on January 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump was meeting with members of Congress and American manufacturers before signing an executive order to strengthen the administration's "Buy American and Hire American" policy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on January 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump was meeting with members of Congress and American manufacturers before signing an executive order to strengthen the administration's "Buy American and Hire American" policy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) (2019 Getty Images)

Several other such letters were sent by members of the U.S. House and Senate and to each of the letters, the Department of Homeland Security gave some variation of the same answer:

"The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is committed to growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs for U.S. workers. In fact, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O) 13788, DHS is required to ‘propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of theU.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse.’

The public will be given an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period on any revisions or regulation that DHS determines appropriate, including revisions relating to the rule providing employment authorization to certain H-4 nonimmigrants."

Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs sent DHS a letter in March 2018. He said while he believed Trump’s executive order “rightfully places a priority on protecting American workers and ensuring they have priority within the American labor market,” he also had some questions about how the EAD program has impacted the U.S. economy. You can read his 10 questions and the response from DHS here.

Biggs too got a similar response from DHS as that of his colleagues in Congress.

Business leaders

In August of 2018, the Business Roundtable, a non-profit coalition consisting of the CEOs of the top U.S. companies wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to bring up concerns about several recent changes made after Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order was signed.

“As the federal government undertakes its legitimate review of immigration rules, it must avoid making changes that disrupt the lives of thousands of law-abiding and skilled employees, and that inflict substantial harm on the U.S. competitiveness,” the group wrote.

The letter was signed by 61 company leaders including the heads of Texas-based companies like American Airlines Chairman Doug Parker, AT&T Inc Chairman Randall L. Stephenson, Fluor Corporation Chairman David T. Seaton, Texas Instruments Inc. President Richard K. Templeton and Houston-based NRG Energy Inc. President and CEO Mauricio Gutierrez.

Among the concerns listed in the letter, the group wrote that they believed if the H-4 EAD was revoked, it would cause more skilled workers on H-1B visas to leave.

“Other countries allow these valuable professionals to work, so revoking their U.S. work authorization will likely cause highly-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the United States,” the group wrote.

Another letter sent in August 2018, this time by lobbyists from Internet Association, also urged DHS to not revoke the H-4 EAD for similar reasons.

“Revoking the H-4 visa rule would make it even harder to recruit talent,” the group wrote.

As it did in response to lawmakers’ letters, the Department of Homeland Security told business leaders and lobbyists to wait until the rule change was made available for public comment.

When KPRC 2 contacted DHS for comment they sent the following statement:

“USCIS is reviewing the 2015 final rule that extended employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers in light of Executive Order 13788, Buy American and Hire American. This effort is part of Office of Management and Budget’s Unified Agenda, but there has been no proposed rule published, USCIS has no details to share outside of what’s available at the OMB abstract here, and certain H-4 dependent spouses can still apply for this benefit.”

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