Talent Ahoy! H-1B Spouses to get Work Permits | DCR Workforce Blog

Talent Ahoy! H-1B Spouses to get Work Permits

h1b visaHere is news for all those employers who are contending for talent in a market starved of certain STEM skills. Many foreign workers work in America on H-1B visas, which allow them to work in America for the duration of three-years, extendable up to six or – in specific cases – up to ten years. Their spouses are allowed to stay in America but are not permitted to work. Many such educated spouses are forced to relinquish all career aspirations for the ‘American dream’, or refuse it to find work elsewhere.

Now, in a move aimed at attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security has announced a formal plan to allow the spouses ofH-1B visa holders to work in America. The change only applies to spouses of H-1B visa holders who have petitioned for lawful permanent residence or who have been granted an extension to their stay in the U.S. to work in America. It is one of those instances, where a collective sigh of relief is followed by an exclamation of “Better late than never!” for many H-1B Visa holders who are processing their applications for lawful permanent residency.

Department of Homeland Security officials estimate that about 97,000 spouses will apply for permission to work the first year after the change is approved. After that, about 30,000 spouses a year are expected to seek work permits.

Is this change in the best interests of American businesses, taxpayers and citizens?   Of course, there are many who would argue both sides of this issue.

According to the National Math+Science Initiative, 36% of high school students are ready for college level science, and 44% are prepared for a college level math course. Only 31% of college students pursue a major in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM). 38% of those do not graduate with a STEM Major. So, given a group of 1000 students, we have only 310 taking up STEM courses – while only 192 actually graduate with a relevant degree in STEM subjects. This situation follows a dwindling interest in STEM studies in American colleges, tracked since 2001.

What the USA stands to lose, by not relaxing its regulations:

  • Untapped potential, as spouses with highly sought after skills and work experiences remain exempt from the workforce.
  • Talent shortages, as skilled workers migrate to other countries which give them greater opportunities for increased family income. This is increasingly becoming an issue for companies attempting to attract workers to expensive metropolitan areas deemed unaffordable for one-income families.
  • The increasing shortage of STEM graduates would result in America losing access to immigrant citizens who could bring in innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Undoubtedly, many of the non-working spouses would be women. Having them join the workforce would boost the diversity of the workplaces and improve their competitiveness.

By not allowing the educated spouses of H-1B visa holders in the USA, many of whom are from India and other Asian countries; America is limiting its source of talent who possess coveted degrees in science, technology and engineering. Many of the nearly 100,000 spouses have the potential to become great teachers and researchers, potential innovators and entrepreneurs who create jobs.

While many believe that this move was long awaited, there is some inevitable resistance from those who look upon this relaxation as potentially hurtful to American workers. This regulatory change is not a great departure in real terms because once the H-1B worker receives a green card, the spouse is given the right to work in the USA. So, essentially, this regulation is allowing it a little earlier in the day. That is all.

Technology jobs in America are growing three times faster than jobs in other sectors. When there is no available talent to meet their needs, employers will be constrained to find other alternatives and even offshore the jobs which would also be detrimental to the interests of the American workers. The company would also lose its competitive edge. Allowing the talent to stay and work in America will help to improve the economy as the workers spend their earnings and boost its growth; making this a step in the right direction.

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking comment on this proposal through www.regulations.gov. Weigh in on this issue.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.