A work ban on spouses of H-1B visa holders would negatively impact women, families and the U.S.

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We were living in Berlin when my husband accepted a position as a product manager at Amazon in Seattle under the H-1B visa program. As his spouse, I got an H-4 visa. I wasn’t allowed to work, but I was relying on my employment authorization to come through so I could further develop my career.

Back in 2015, the Obama administration gave H-4 visa holders the right to work as long as their spouses were applying for permanent residency. When it was reported last month that a spousal work ban is coming in three months, I was suddenly faced with an uncertain future. And I’m far from the only one.

Here’s why I believe H-4 visa holders should be allowed to work.

Skilled workers add value. The spouses of highly skilled H-1B visa holders are often very educated and skilled themselves. A recent survey by SaveH4EAD, a group of permit holders, found that 55 percent of 2,411 respondents throughout the U.S. have a post-graduate or professional degree and 38 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Many are in a golden cage, wanting to contribute to the national economy, but can’t. As someone with a master’s degree from a top Canadian university, I can attest to this.

Planting roots strengthens community. When we came to the U.S., I was eager to adjust and settle in. We moved into an apartment, enrolled my son in school and found opportunities for social and professional integration. We were thinking about buying a home and growing our family. Now this planning is on hold and we’re in limbo while H-4 visa holders such as myself await the next steps.

Diversity and inclusion matter to the workforce. A study by the Migration Policy Institute showed that in 2017, 94 percent of H-4 visa holders with employment permits were female. From a gender diversity and inclusion point of view, the spousal ban will have a disproportionately negative outcome on the number of women in the workforce.

Given these conditions, when the future is uncertain, spouses can’t work and deportation is a realistic threat, the U.S. is losing its luster as a top choice for skilled people.

America has much to gain from foreign talent, and we should see granting H-4 visa holders the opportunity to work as growing the pie instead of taking someone else’s slice.

Diya Khanna, columnist for Seattle Times Explore
Diya Khanna, columnist for Seattle Times Explore