May 16, 2014, 9:17 AM — The U.S. is collecting comments on whether to allow certain H-1B spouses to work, and the prevailing theme is one of frustration.
The frustration is coming mostly from H-1B families with a spouse who isn't authorized to work. Many spouses, in these comments, say they have skills and degrees and can contribute positively to the U.S. if allowed to.
Comments in support of the rule change appear to dominate the discussion at Regulations.gov. But you can find anger, as well, from people upset over the administration's action.
The U.S. is proposing allowing spouses of H-1B holders who are seeking green cards or permanent residency to get work authorization. This Obama-administration backed regulatory change, announced earlier this month, is a fait accompli, but the administration is obligated to collect comments before making the rule final.
The comment period ends July 11, and some 2,000 comments have been received so far. The government estimates that 97,000 people will obtain employment authorization in the first year of this rule.
One H-1B holder wrote that even though his wife has an MBA degree and has worked extensively in India, she has been a stay at home wife for the past four years.
"We are planning a family now and with just a single income we have been contemplating abandoning the American dream to return back to India," wrote this person. But if his spouse can work in the U.S., it will allow her to contribute to the U.S. economy "and in the process build a better future for our little one."
Regulations.gov allows people to post anonymously. It isn't a discussion board, where people engage in direct debate. Unlike commercial forums that seek, at least, email verification from users, the government is interested in comments that rise and fall on their own merits, preferably backed by data and sound reasoning.
Many posters at Regulations.gov do leave names, but without any other identifying information, it's difficult to know whether the name is real or not.
But the messages sound, at least, heartfelt.
A man who identified himself as a manager of multinational firm wrote of having two married visa holders on his team, one here for eight years and another for six. "I find it very strange that their wives, even though highly qualified, are sitting at home," he wrote.
"To all my fellow Americans, I would like to encourage you to look at this more logically," wrote the manager. "These folks are not illegals. They have committed to spend rest of their lives in U.S. Their spouses are working hard and paying taxes."
But an opponent writes that he is appalled he is over the White House's "overreach" in proposing the rule change, as well as the additional job market competition.
"There is no general shortage of skilled labor among U.S. citizens. We have college graduates applying for minimum wage jobs," wrote the opponent.
The spouses are on H-4 dependent visas, which go to immediate family members, including children. While they can't work, they can get driver's licenses and attend school.
Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California at Davis and a leading critic of the H-1B program, drew attention to Regulations.gov postings in his widely read mailings. Matloff wrote that it "is truly outrageous" that U.S. says the proposal is designed to prevent "economic hardship" to the H-1B families.
"What about the economic hardships brought upon Americans by the H-1B (and now, H-4) program?" wrote Matloff.
Susan Cohen, an attorney at Mintz Levin and founder and chair of the firm's immigration practice, said, in an interview, that some work visas do allow spouses to work. The L-1, used for intercompany transfers, is one such visa.
The U.S. rule change would help H-1B workers from India and China, in particular, who have the longest wait for a green card. The U.S. issues green cards under a quota system that considers the country and region. The countries have the longest green card backlogs are India and China.
An H-1B worker from Germany, said Cohen, can get a green card in less than 10 years, but people born in India or China may have to wait five, 10 years or more to finish the green card process because of per country quotas.
"People are being penalized because of their country of birth," said Cohen.
"The primary outcome (of the rule change) will be happier families, because spouses are frustrated when they can't work," said Cohen. "They're just miserable."
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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