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Changes Made to the H-1b Visa (Skilled Worker Visa)

On Dec. 14, the Trump administration announced it will revoke the rule that permitted spouses of highly-skilled foreign workers the right to work in the US.

The H1B visa (aka skilled worker visa) - is a visa reserved for highly skilled foreign workers - allows its recipients to bring their spouses and dependent children into the US on H-4 visas. In 2015, these H-4 visa holders were given the right to work on their own, provided that a green card process had been initiated for the H-1B visa holder and the process had reached a certain stage.

In a serious regulatory change to the H1B program made by the administration, H-4 visa holders will no longer have authorization to work on their own while in the US.

The H1-B visa program was created in 1990, as a “temporary nonimmigrant visa” that prioritized highly-skilled workers whose labor was needed for specialized and complex jobs.

The visa allows US companies to hire high-skilled foreign workers, typically for a period of three to six years, after which point the employer can choose to sponsor said foreign worker for permanent residency (i.e. a green card).

If the administration does revoke the rule permitting H-4 visa holders to work, roponents of the H-1B program worry that with H-4 holders being unable to work or obtain a social security number will negatively impact immigrant families.

Although the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t release gender data, there have been estimates by third party organizations that up to 85 percent of H1B visa holders are men, meaning that the majority of the H-4 visa spouses, are women.

The administration has also increased the level of scrutiny on H-1B applications. Officials are now asking more applicants to provide additional evidence - from extra details about applicants’ education or work history, or more information about the position to be filled.

In November 2016, only 27.2 percent of applications required additional evidence. A year later, almost half of all applications are being asked for additional evidence, which can delay decision making for months.

The approval rate of Skilled Worker Visa applications is also diminishing. In November of 2016, 92 percent of applications were approved, compared to 82 percent in November of this year - not taking into account companies that give up their petitions after requests for additional evidence.

Advocates of the H1-B program, however, point out that foreign workers increase innovation and bring in much-needed high-skilled labor, and worry about the changes taking place in the program, while critics of the H1-B program argue that it is abused by companies to replace American workers and pay lower wages.

These changes and challenges to the skilled worker visa program are in an effort to promote the administration's "Buy American, Hire American" executive order issued last April, which cites cases where companies are abusing the H1-B program to hire cheaper foreign workers as motivation towards the changes.

Companies in Silicon Valley, who face real difficulties finding enough skilled labor, however, will especially feel the crunch, along with the actual H1-B visa families in question.

In 2016, more than 41,000 H-4 spouses were granted work authorization, while another 36,000 were approved for work permits through June of 2017.

The families that move to expensive regions of the US - such as Silicon Valley- find that a single-family income can create undue stress, which the Obama-era H-4 work visa program helped to alleviate. Potential H1-B recipients may think twice about relocating their families under the new rules.