After a series of meetings including supporters and opponents of a much-delayed proposed work ban for spouses of H-1B holders, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is still working on the plan, according to a new court filing.
Federal authorities have been promising to impose a new rule estimated to bar some 100,000 foreign nationals from working, but have failed several times to meet deadlines they’ve set.
Spouses of H-1B workers on track for green cards have been allowed to use their H-4 visas to work in the U.S. since 2015, when the administration of former President Barack Obama published a new rule, first proposed in 2011, authorizing their employment.
Since late 2017, Homeland Security has been pledging to reverse that authorization. In an online notification last fall, Homeland Security said of the planned ban, “Some U.S. workers would benefit from this proposed rule by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold.”
The agency’s latest missed target for publishing the rule was May of this year.
This week, a Department of Justice lawyer wrote on behalf of Homeland Security to a federal appeals court hearing a challenge to the Obama-era work authorization. The letter noted that since Homeland Security formally submitted the proposed work-ban rule to the White House in February, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has held eight meetings with “interested parties” to discuss it. Federal government records show that those meetings included H-4 visa holders and representatives from groups supporting and opposing the work ban.
The meetings also included representatives from Homeland Security, the letter said. “Some of the parties who requested the meetings provided specific information and data about the potential impacts of the rule for (Homeland Security) to consider before issuing the rule.” Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is continuing to work on the rule, and it remains under White House review, the letter said.
Holders of the H-4 visa, many of them in the Bay Area and mostly Indian women, according to University of Tennessee research, have been caught up in the heated U.S. debate over immigration and the H-1B. The administration of President Donald Trump has taken aim at the H-1B, dramatically increasing denials, mostly among outsourcing companies.
Technology giants rely heavily on the H-1B and pushed for an expansion of the annual 85,000 cap on new visas, arguing that they need more of the work permits to secure the world’s top talent. Critics point to reported abuses and argue that outsourcers and tech companies use the H-1B to supplant U.S. workers and drive down wages.
Details of the planned ban won’t become publicly available until the rule is published in the Federal Register, immigration-law firm Fragomen noted in a blog post. Once the White House’s Office of Management and Budget clears the plan and it’s published in the Federal Register, a public comment period is expected to follow. After that period, Homeland Security will review the feedback, then kick the proposed rule back to the budget office for further review before publication of a final rule, according to Fragomen.
“There is no set time frame for publication of a final rule,” Fragomen said.