In early March, 15 members of Congress sent a letter to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging Secretary Nielsen to reconsider the proposal to end the H-4 EAD program. Following an appeals court decision, DHS announced that it would delay its announcement to officially end the program, which allows the spouses of H-1B workers to work legally for pay during the period of their stay. In the letter, members of Congress urged Secretary Nielson to reflect on the profound impact of removing H-4 spouses from the category of non-immigrants granted employment authorization, noting the effect the change would have on the economy. Specifically, highly skilled H-1B workers will be discouraged from relocating their families to the United States, lowering the pool of high skilled workers available in profitable industries. The California members of Congress reminded the Secretary that many H-1B visa holders must relocate to areas with high demand for high skilled technology professionals (e.g. Silicon Valley), areas which have a high cost of living. Few families can sustain a household on the single income from the H-1B holding spouse. The letter also reminded Secretary Nielson that over 100,000 spouses, mainly women, were granted the opportunity to provide for their household through the H-4 EAD program. The Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Nielson, did not directly respond to the appeal from members of Congress. Instead, the director of the United State Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) Lee Cissna responded on behalf of DHS.
Director Cissna offered no indication of responding to the appeal from the 15 members of Congress. In his letter, Director Cissna reminded the members of Congress that both DHS and USCIS are required to adhere to the Executive Order (EO) Buy American, Hire American, which prioritizes U.S. workers and economic growth within the U.S. Since the guidelines for the EO are unclear, it is the obligation of DHS to propose new measures that align with the framework of President Trump’s EO. Director Cissna notes that the “public will be given an opportunity to provide feedback during a notice and comment period on any revisions to regulations that DHS determines appropriate, including revisions relating to the rule providing employment authorization to certain H-4 nonimmigrants.” The letter largely ignores the facts presented in the letter from members of Congress and makes no indication that the H-4 EAD program will continue for the long term.