H-4 Spousal Work Authorization Faces Challenges on Multiple Fronts

By April 10, 2019General

Manufacturers are making the case in support of these workers.

According to numbers released just yesterday, there are currently 477,000 open jobs in the manufacturing sector—and manufacturers could struggle to fill millions in coming years, according to a 2018 Skills Gap Study by Deloitte and the NAM’s education and workforce partner, the Manufacturing Institute. While manufacturers are generally optimistic about the outlook for their industry, thanks in part to things like tax reform and regulatory reform, workforce concerns are a real source of uncertainty.

More than 71% of manufacturers cite their inability to attract skilled workers as a top challenge. They know that their continued ability to realize the benefits of a pro-business environment demands a workforce up to the task, which is why they are working hard to recruit more Americans into the industry and it’s why they are competing with countries around the world to attract and retain talent that can help move our American economy forward.  

Yet, despite the global competition for talent, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a change that would rapidly remove 91,000 individuals from the workforce, negatively impact the H-1B visa program and reduce companies’ ability to recruit top talent moving forward. Such changes would come in the form of rescinding work authorization for H-4 spouses of certain H-1B employees awaiting permanent residency. The same H-4 Rule is also being challenged in court. Accordingly, this week the NAM, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Information Technology Industry Council, filed an amicus brief in support of H-4 work permits in that court case.

Currently, thanks to a 2015 rule promulgated by DHS, the H-4 spouses of certain H-1B employees can obtain work permits in order to pursue careers, support their families and contribute to their communities. This is important because these H-1B employees are already approved for permanent residency and are awaiting green cards. Even after being approved, the wait time in the green card backlog can stretch years due to outdated per-country caps in the law and having a spouse eligible to work helps keep workforce talent here in the United States. Our brief makes the case that the H-4 Rule is within DHS’ authority to provide work authorizations for categories of individuals legally present in the United States. It also provides the court with a clear picture of what’s at stake to our economy, these workers and their employers if the H-4 Rule is eliminated.

According to a recent economic analysis of the H-4 Rule, H-4 spouses are highly educated and skilled, with 99-percent of the population possessing a college degree and almost sixty percent with a master’s degree. Two-thirds of H-4 spouses work in the STEM field, which are jobs critical for modern manufacturing. The 91,000 H-4 spouses with work permits contribute approximately $5.5 billion to U.S. gross domestic product each year. H-4 spouses contribute $1.9 billion to federal coffers each year, and state and local governments would lose approximately $530 million in tax revenue per year if H-4 work permits were revoked.

Rescinding the H-4 Rule would also result in significant hardship for these families. That same analysis of the H-4 population found that nearly 90% of these families made a major life decision based on the work authorization permitted by the H-4 Rule, including decisions to have children, purchase a home or invest in additional education. Furthermore, rescinding the H-4 Rule would have ripple effects on those who employ H-4 spouses, individuals employed by H-4 spouses who have started their own businesses, as well as companies who rely on H-1B workers who may decide to relocate to a country that allows their spouse to work.

The NAM is working to protect H-4 work permits while also advocating for broad reform to our broken immigration system. Protecting work permits for H-4 spouses and eliminating per-country caps that are contributing to today’s green card backlog are two aspects of immigration reform needed to boost manufacturers’ global competitiveness. The NAM recognizes and addresses these needs and others in our comprehensive immigration proposal, “A Way Forward.” Read more about that plan here.

Stephanie Hall

Stephanie Hall is the Director of Innovation Policy at National Association of Manufacturers.

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