Over 90,000 legally employed immigrants could be out of work as soon as this summer, the question is: will it lead to American job opportunities?
What is an H4 EAD?
H-4 EADs (Employment Authorization Documents) were issued as a supplementary policy to the H-1B visa program which attracted talented professionals to work as non-immigrants with the aim of retaining these professionals as permanent residents. Although the H-1B program was successful in attracting talented professionals as nonimmigrants, it failed as a retention policy. Immigration regulations, such as that limiting immigration from any one country to 7% of overall annual immigration, led to backlogs and decades long waiting periods during which H-1B holders couldn’t start the Green Card process and their spouses—holders of H-4 visas—couldn’t work.
The Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) introduced H-4 EADs as a means of easing the transition from H-1B to LPR. H-4 EADs were meant to ease the long transitional phase by providing employment to qualified professionals holding H-4 visas and therefore providing immigrant families a dual income and easier transition into the United States. The 2015 policy has been successful in increasing the retention rate of H-1B immigrants. Since the policy’s induction, over 90,000 highly educated and highly skilled H-4 visa holders have obtained a H-4 EAD and joined the US workforce—90% of them women and 90% Indian.
What is the current standing of the H-4 EAD policy?
After its induction in 2015, the H-4 EAD was immediately challenged in court by a group of information technology workers represented by Save Jobs USA. They argued that the H-4 EAD visas had resulted in increased unemployment for Americans due to an influx of new immigrant employees. A Federal court ruling in DC found that Save Jobs had no standing due to a lack of evidence that any Americans had lost their jobs due to this policy.
Although the Save Jobs legal battle continues, it has since been delayed on request of President Trump’s DHS, who, following Mr. Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” policy, plan to rescind the H-4 EAD policy. The DHS Secretary has declared that rescinding the rule would allow Americans a “better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold.” The DHS has yet to publish the proposed “Rule Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens eligible for Employment Authorization,” despite its appearance on both the 2018 and 2019 Spring Regulatory Agendas.
Those arguing against the rescinding reference the 2015 court ruling that there was no evidence that the H-4 EADs had caused higher unemployment rates and include a bipartisan group of 130 lawmakers led by Republican Mia Love and Democrat Pramila Jayapal who stated in an open letter to the Secretary of Mr.Trump’s DHS: “rescinding the rule will hurt the competitiveness of US employers and the US economy as well as H-4 accompanying spouses and their families.”
What are the costs and benefits of allowing H4 Visa holders to work?
Although the legal standing of H-4 employment authorization is currently under debate, the facts are clear: rescinding the H-4 EADs would be far more costly than beneficial to both the American public and H-4 visa holders.
At a superficial level, H-4 visa holders’ employment is easily framed as an anti-American worker policy. However, a deeper investigation reveals that removing H-4 jobs could in fact increase unemployment in addition to a myriad of other costly results to the US such as: lowering tax revenues, damaging the global competitiveness of American businesses, facilitating economic stagnation resulting from a rapidly aging American work force, and reinforcing preexisting patriarchal structures which prevent women from working.
About 91,000 H-4 dependents have obtained employment authorization since 2015, representing a negligible .056% of the American workforce. Further nullifying their impact on the job market, most H-4 workers have pursued work in fields with extremely low unemployment rates. In fact, many H-4 EAD holders have become self-employed and are actively building job opportunities for Americans. According to Forbes, Americans working for H-4 holders likely represent a larger population than those that would secure employment in positions currently held by H-4 visa holders. Maintaining H-4 EADs is more in line with Mr. Trump’s policy of “Buy American and Hire American” than rescinding it.
Outside of unemployment, H-4 employment authorization provides a plethora of other benefits.
The US government currently profits around 13 billion in taxes from H-4 EAD holders—not accounting for tax profits from those employed by H-4 holders or the retained H-1B who formerly would have left. The H-4 EAD policy also works towards global competitiveness as similar policies already exist in Canada and Australia. Rescinding it would likely result in capable employees simply relocating to competing economies. Moreover, the American economy has undergone a rise in retirement rates. While this can cause economic stagnation—as seen in Japan—H-4 visa holders are highly educated, highly skilled, and 88.6% of them are of ideal working age (20-39) therefore providing a necessary source of labor.
Equally important, rescinding H-4 employment would have a devastating effect on the holders of the H-4 EADs and their families. A Forbes survey found that seven out of eight surveyed H-4 EAD holders had made a major life decision as a result of their employment such as having a child or buying a house. At a more macro level, rescinding H-4 EADs will contribute to the preexisting structural gender inequality and would exacerbate issues including, and as serious as, domestic abuse.
Implications for retention of H-4 visa holders, for their families, for employment rates and economic competitiveness of the US, and for the empowerment of women and minorities in the US work force are dependent on the H-4 employment authorization. Costs to the US economy and to the individual holders of these visas well outweigh the benefits provided by snappy rhetoric such as “Buy American and Hire American.”