H1B spouses' work permits: USCIS chief Francis Cissna speaks up on H4 EAD in letter to US lawmakers; tough road ahead

Nikhila Natarajan
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services chief Francis Cissna has responded to a letter from 15 influential US Congress lawmakers who requested the Trump administration to "reconsider" its plan to revoke work permits for spouses of H1B workers in America, suggesting that the writing is on the wall and that the public can comment during the typical 60 day notice period before any new rule becomes cast in stone.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) chief Francis Cissna has indicated in a letter to 15 US lawmakers that the Trump administration is firmly on track to likely revoking work permits given to more than 100,000 spouses of H1B workers in America. Cissna responded with a crisp one-pager to a written request from lawmakers asking the Trump administration to "reconsider" its plan to revoke work permits for H1B workers' spouses on H4 visas.

The USCIS is America's visa regulator under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

A careful reading of the USCIS response - "the public will be given an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period" -  suggests the writing is on the wall for H4 work permits. Proposed rules have a typical 60 day notice period for comment before they get cast in stone.

Yet, with the politics of immigration becoming so deeply divisive and stakes rising rapidly ahead of the midterm elections in November, Trump's 'America First' war cry is clearly in play here.

Cissna says he is responding to the lawmakers' letter on behalf of Department of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen and situates the policy tilt in the wider arc of "growing the US economy and creating jobs for US workers". Cissna adds a new lens in this letter that he writes on behalf of Secretary Nielsen - that Trump's 'Buy American Hire American' executive order makes it imperative for the DHS "to propose new rules and issue new guidance to supersede or revise previous rules or guidance, if appropriate to protect the interest of US workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud and abuse."

H4 visa holders were not allowed to work for pay in America until the Obama government changed the rule in 2015. Within weeks, anti immigration groups filed a case challenging the concession and that case continues till today. Meanwhile, the Trump administration indicated late last year that it intends to revoke the work permit for H4 spouses setting off alarm bells across the community in America and family members in their home countries.

More than 100,000 (H4) dependents of H1B workers have been allowed to pursue paid employment in the US from 2015. They are reeling after news of Cissna's letter trickled into messaging groups today.

"Let's hope for the best and prepare for the worst", says Mansi Mathur on a Facebook comment thread.

"You have seen the fate of all that they wanted to terminate and everything has been thrown out by court", says another.

"This doesn't augur well for the H4 EAD community. H1B families might look for other options such as moving to another country or their home country", writes Sumi, from Seattle.

"Heartbreaking", says Kanupriya Dhiman.

Although Cissna has not mentioned any specifics on the fate of the H4 EAD, the language and tone of his letter leaves very little wiggle room even for H4 EAD optimists.

USCIS sources have been telling us that the "economic analysis" is on for some weeks now. Under the umbrella of the Buy American, Hire American executive order, proving that foreign workers are hurting Americans in the job market is a first step to creating the scaffolding for any rule change.

Also See: In H1B haven of California, sharp political divisions on immigration surface as midterm elections loom

H1B workers' spouses on H4 visas 'shocked' at fallout of New York Times story on fate of work permits

Citizenship question in US 2020 census fuels uproar as immigrants fear Donald Trump-led crackdown

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