Proposed ban on H4 US visas has 1,50,000 Indian spouses worried

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Sanjana Boppanna (26) works with an NGO in the Bay Area in California. Her techie husband Anand is employed with a bank in San Francisco. The wife holds a H4 visa, a type of visa granted to spouses of H1B visa holders.   

The US currently has some 1,50,000 Indian spouses on H4 visas of which some 100,000 have either taken up a job or doing some business, after the Obama administration extended work authorisation to spouses of H1B visa holders in 2015.

In the last three years, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or the USCIS has issued Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD) to 104,750 H4 visa holders, who are dependents of their spouses.

When an H1B visa holder brings home something between $75,000 and $90,000 per annum, his or her spouse earns anything between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.

Most spouses, who are on H4, are working with NGOs, paramedical departments attached to hospitals, baking houses, retail/grocery stores and banks as tellers, while some run Indian catering units or Indian ethnic wear boutiques.

There are also those who work as nannies, baby-sitters or housekeepers. Though, many of them are professionally qualified, the visas they hold do not permit them to take up professional jobs in the US.

Anxiety has, however, started to build up recently with the Trump Administration deciding to revoke the work authorisation issued by his predecessor, a move that would put large number of H1B visa holders and their spouses holding H4 visas in deep trouble.

The department of home security has proposed to new law, which if passed, will ban H4 work authorisations.

“Obviously this will impact both H4 and H1B visa holders, who are working or running a business in the US. H4 holders may be forced to come back to India instead of sitting at home in the US,’’ said immigration and IT lawyer Sajai Singh, partner J Sagar Associates.

A large number of professionals holding H1B visas, working in the US may return to India with their families if the US administration finally decides to withdraw Employment Authorisation Document from their spouses.

The current turnaround by the US administration will result in a major setback for the H1B community. Many are at the risk of losing their houses because they will no longer be able to afford the mortgages.

This will also damage companies as their talent pool in the US will suddenly shrink by over 10,000, said Abhinav Lohia, vice president, India and Middle East CanAM Enterprises.

Financial Chronicle spoke to half-a- dozen IT and BFSI professionals and some of their spouses to understand the ground reality.

According to Shalini Ramachandran, a techie working in Austin, “Trump is very keen on restricting the number of immigrant workers in the country. We keep getting warning messages. My husband holds a H4 visa and works with an Indian restaurant in Texas. We have a five-year-old kid and we have just brought a new home. If my husband goes out of a job, we will put the house on sale and probably relocate to India.’’

Anand too has plans to relocate to Bangalore if Sanjana is not able to work. “It’s tough to live in the US on a single salary. After a huge tax cut and our home EMI, nothing much remains,’’ he said.

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