Much of the discussion regarding the recent immigration changes focuses on those who are unlawfully in the country. Deferred status will allow these people to be freed from the fear of immediate deportation, and provide work authorization. However, there is also a group of people who are in the country legally, but unable to work. New changes in the nation's immigration laws may allow them to get back to work as well.
Many foreign-born residents come to the United States on a H-1B visa for highly-skilled workers, to work in specialized areas such as engineering. Their visa also allows them to bring some family members. However, family members receive a different visa that does not allow them to work. This leaves spouses who may have useful job experience unable to find employment, leaving them few options but attending English classes and staying home. H-4 visa holders are largely female, and are tied to their spouse's working visa.
A recent Boston Globe article details the individual stories of some spouses of highly skilled worker visa recipients. One woman, Geetha Thangasamy, is a software engineer, but has been unable to work for the past 6 years because of her visa limitation. Her husband is also an engineer, and came to the U.S. on a specialized visa where he has been working, while she waited unemployed. Now, the executive action immigration changes may allow both Thangasamys to find work.
Another couple, Simona Stella and her husband, came to the U.S. from Italy. She was in international development, and he came to the U.S. to work as a research scientist. Simona Stella tried unsuccessfully to get her own high-skilled worker visa for three years. “Can you imagine at 45 to start from scratch?” Stella said. She continued, “when you used to travel a lot for work, had a lot of responsibility, worked in a very good environment, and now you're suddenly home alone and economically dependent?”
The rule change may authorize more than 100,000 spouses to be able to work. Previously they were only allowed to do volunteer work, or attend school. The effect of the change may be to encourage skilled workers to stay in the U.S. However, some labor groups have come out against the rule change. A representative for the AFL-CIO has spoken out against more work authorizations.
Paul Almeida, president of the department for professional employees at the AFL-CIO says the rule does not encourage the tech industry to pay more money, or increase opportunities for recent graduates. Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University, said “there's a lot of ‘visa creep' going on without any cleaning up of the programs that are clearly being exploited and working against American workers.
Meanwhile, a number of high tech companies and groups are pushing for more H-1B visas. Competition for the visas is extremely high, with the quota for the visas filling up in a matter of days. Tech companies argue there aren't enough skilled workers in the U.S. to fill up the technology jobs. The immigration executive action makes no changes to the number of H-1B visas available, but spouses of these workers will now be able to find some independence and opportunities now that they will be able to find work.