These bills, lawsuit could impact the ability of 100K immigrant spouses to work in the US

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 12: People walk past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 12, 2020 in New York City. The market closed up over 250 points as gains in tech companies and retailers outweighed concerns over the coronavirus. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Spencer Platt, 2020 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.

There are several pieces of legislation introduced in Congress that directly or indirectly address the issue of the H-4 EADs and Green Card backlogs, that affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Many of those immigrants live and work in the Houston area.

Here are some of them:

Name of bill: H-4 Employment Protection Act (2018)

Who introduced it?

In 2018, Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-California) and five other Democratic Members of Congress introduced the H-4 Employment Protection Act.

What is the aim?

The aim of the bill was to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from revoking the EAD for H-4 visa holders.

“The policy itself, relative to the authorization for spouses, has a lot of common sense to it,” Eschoo said. “But it also is a win. There’s more than one win. It’s a win for our national economy and it’s a win in the local communities where these workers live, because they do all their shopping, they become consumers and they pay taxes into the U.S. treasury. So what’s wrong with that?”

Eschoo said she and her co-sponsors had a “coterie of members supporting us.”

“My sensibility is that the legislation is well-drafted. It’s well put together. I don’t know whether we can beat the clock with the administration in terms of their rule. But we can always upend a rule too, legislatively,” she said.

Name of bill: Fairness for Highly-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019

Who introduced it?

A bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by 35 U.S. Senators, called the Fairness for Highly-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019. Among the bill’s sponsors is the senior senator for Texas, Sen. John Cornyn.

What is the aim?

This bill is aimed at eliminating the per-country cap on employment-based Green Cards issued each year.

At present, the cap is 7% per country which has created enormous backlogs for applicants from India and China. Due to the cap, wait times for Indian employment-based Green Card applicants today are estimated to be between eight and 10 years.

While this bill wouldn’t directly address the issue of the H-4 EAD, it would potentially reduce the wait times for families in the process of getting a Green Card and thus, potentially eliminate the need for employment authorization for H1-B spouses.

Name of Bill: Reuniting Families Act (2017-18)

Who introduced it?

The Reuniting Families Act was co-sponsored by 62 Democratic Members of Congress including four Texas Representatives: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Marc Veasey and Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

What is the aim?

The goal of the bill was multi-faceted. It aimed to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to recapture unused employment-based visas between 1992 and 2016, reclassify spouses, permanent partners, minor children and step-children of permanent residents as immediate relatives and remove country-specific immigration caps, among other goals.

What advocates say:

“(This bill) addresses some of these underlying issues and it also codifies those regulations… that would allow not only spouses but their children of these H1-B visa holders to work as well and that their visas won’t expire if they turn 21,” said Niyati Shah, head of litigation for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Her organization works to “advance civil and human rights for Asian Americans,” according to its website.

Advocates like Niyati Shah with Asian Americans Advancing Justice say this act is as important as the EAD Protection Act as it would not only allow dependent spouses and children to work but also prevent children from losing their visa-status when they turn 21.

Save Jobs USA vs. DHS

While the bills aim to protect highly-skilled immigrant workers and their families, a lawsuit brought against the Department of Homeland Security during President Barack Obama’s administration claims the H-4 EAD hurts American workers.

A group called “Save Jobs USA,” comprised of American tech workers first began fighting the H-4 EAD before it was introduced in 2015 by President Barack Obama’s administration. When they were unable to stay the implementation of the new rule, the group took the issue to court.

Save Jobs USA claims it is comprised of American tech workers who lost their jobs and were replaced by H-1B workers. The group argues that if H-4 visa holders are allowed to work, American workers, who already face competition from H-1B workers, would also face competition from H-4 visa holders as well.

In September 2016, the U.S. District Court of District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Department of Homeland Security and the H-4 EAD rule remained unaffected. Save Jobs USA continued to fight the case and in November 2019, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court decision, in favor of Save Jobs USA.

The court concluded that Save Jobs USA had demonstrated that DHS’s H-4 EAD rule would subject its members to an actual or imminent increase in competition, and so the group has the standing to pursue its challenge. You can follow the progress of the Save Jobs USA vs. DHS case here.


Living in limbo

100K Indian women, many in Houston, could lose the ability to work if the Trump administration changes 1 rule

The Woodlands woman says company preyed on her desperation for a work visa

What local lawmakers think of the employment authorization for immigration spouses possibly being revoked

How US and Houston’s economies could take a hit if work authorization is revoked for 100K Indian women

Out of time and choices: Woman struggles to find work while walking tight-rope of immigration system

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

‘If I lose my job, it’s game over for us’: Richmond couple’s struggle to find peace amidst 10-year immigration journey

FAQs: What is the H-4 visa and EAD?

Living in limbo: A glossary of terms related to the H-4 visa and the US immigration system

Living in limbo: How and why we covered this story