In a little-noticed move, the Department of Homeland Security announced at the end of January “a series of administrative reforms which will be completed in the future.”
The genesis of the announcement was attributed to President Obama’s support of “legislative measures that would attract and retain immigrants who create jobs and boost competitiveness here in the U.S., including creating a ‘Startup Visa’, strengthening the H-1B program, and “stapling” green cards to the diplomas of certain foreign-born graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.”
One of the “administrative reforms” announced by DHS was a change in the temporary worker visa program (H-visas) to allow the spouses of H-1B professional workers to seek employment themselves in the United States. There is no doubt frustration among foreign spouses of H-1B workers in being prohibited from working during the up to six years their spouse may be in temporary work status – and additional years if waiting for an immigrant visa to become available – but it is jarring to have this change coming at a time when there are millions of Americans unemployed and looking for work.
The number of jobs at stake may be in the hundreds of thousands. In fiscal year 2010, 141,575 spouses and children of temporary workers entered the country. Most were presumably spouses of H-1B workers rather than less well paid unskilled workers, and because the H-1B workers are generally young, most were probably spouses rather than children. Perhaps as many as 100,000 spouses multiplied by the six plus years of temporary work status means there could be as many as half a million spouses seeking to enter the U.S. workforce under this provision
Regulations governing this “reform” have not been issued, and further guidance regarding this measure suggest that it may apply only to the spouses of H-1B workers who have been sponsored by their employer for permanent residence (a ‘green card’). That would reduce the job impact, but still the proposed new competition for U.S. jobs coming from foreigners is an unwelcome prospect for today’s unemployed.