The current US government, under the leadership of Donald John Trump, the 45th president of the world’s largest economy, is vowing to bring back jobs to the Americans, which they believe have been lost to thousands of immigrant workers going to America each year.
In the run-up to the presidential election campaign in late 2016, the American billionaire and real estate magnate Trump promised to ‘Make America Great Again’. The then Republican nominee believed the following ways to do that – deporting illegal migrants, building a wall along the neighbouring country of Mexico to stop an influx of unemployed people, compelling US enterprises to stop outsourcing, and by banning the entry of Muslims into the United States.
What is an H-1B Visa?
H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows the US companies to employ foreign workers for a short duration of time (up to 6 years).
Thousands of ambitious youth from across the world, who seek job opportunities in the US, apply for an H-1B visa through their American employers every year.
The US government each year issues 65,000 new applications across the world. This is in addition to 20,000 visas that are earmarked for those applicants who’ve completed their masters from a US university. During 2015-16, around 2.4 lakh applications were received for the said quota, it’s basically through a lottery that the fixed number of applications are picked every time.
A mammoth share of the number of new visas issued each year goes to the Indian applicants. India has a robust IT industry which supplements the manufacturing and financial sectors of America by providing information technology-related services at a pretty economical rate. Indian MNCs, including Infosys, TCS, Wipro and HCL, file the maximum number of applications, and accordingly, get their share in the new visas issued.
All employees working on the H-1B visa pay taxes to the US government.
Dependents of People Working on H-1B Visa
As per norms, H-1B visa holders can bring immediate family members (spouse and children under 21) to the United States under the H-4 visa category as dependents.
An H-4 visa holder may remain in the US as long as the H-1B visa holder retains legal status. An H-4 visa holder is allowed to attend school, apply for a driver's license, and even open a bank account in the United States.
Thousands of Indian spouses (mainly wives) come in through this category, and they had won a long-fought battle of seeking permission to work in America in February 2015, when the Obama administration issued a rule through the department of homeland security, allowing eligible spouses to be employed while the H-1B visa-holder works in the US.
The Trump administration has proposed several changes in the H-1B regime, like raising the minimum compensation from $60k per annum to $1.3 lakh per annum, and also penalising the companies who replace an American worker with a worker of foreign origin to name a few.
One of the latest developments in the H-1B regime is the recent filing made by the government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Washington DC court of appeals, seeking a 60-day freeze in any case involving employment authorisation of an H-4 visa-holder.
The current attorney general Jeff Sessions, had clearly called for scrapping of the H-4 rule while he was a senator, labelling it as a provision to hurt the interest of American workers.
The intention of the government to disallow H-4 visa holders from working in US is clearly evident.
Impact on Women
Of the 3.9 million people employed in the IT industry, approximately 34 percent are women.
As per the latest IANS report, in 2016, 72 percent of all the H1B visas issued by the US worldwide went to Indians. Going by the statistics, at least 66 percent of the Indian workers going to US on H-1B visa are men.
That means approximately over 30,000 Indian men each year travel to US to work along with their spouses in most cases.
If the filing is accepted in the court and subsequently the H-4 rule gets scrapped, it will directly take away the right to work, and the ensured right to live with dignity to all those wives and daughters who accompany these Indian men.
The same applies to all other women accompanying their fathers and husbands from other countries of the world to the US.
The Department of Homeland Security of the US recently published a list of ‘gender based violence against women in the US’, which states that as much as 15 percent of all violent crimes in the US are those of domestic violence against women. There are numerous other reports suggesting that men in the North American country kill 1500 – 1700 women each year, and that at least one in every five women in the US have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Another report from the ‘Centre of American progress’ says that misogyny, contrary to the popular belief, is so rampant in the US society that women in US are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than the women in other high income countries.
Under such times, will the US not like to rethink its attitude towards the H-4 & the H-1B visa affecting lakhs of women from across the world?
All the chest thumping feminists of the world, are you listening?
(The author is a Bangalore based freelance journalist, covering politics, economy and international affairs. He can be reached @haider_talat. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)