December 16, 2020

Watson Coleman Urges Incoming Administration to Extend Work Authorizations for H4 Visa Holders

Months-long backlog created by changes made during the Trump Administration have created economic challenges for women, their families, and the communities in which they live

Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman released a letter signed by 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging President-elect Joseph R. Biden to unilaterally extend the expiration work authorization documents for holders of H4 visas, the majority of whom are highly skilled women of color and active contributors to the economies of New Jersey and the country. Changes made during the tenure of President Donald J. Trump to the way these documents are processed have led to months-long delays and the loss of, or inability to secure, employment outside of the home for many New Jersey women, taking researchers, physicians and other highly-skilled roles offline while also adding new financial burdens for these families.

“We respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security publish a Federal Register notice on day one of your administration that would extend the validity period of all expired H4 EADs,” the members of Congress wrote. “In 2015…the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US. This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system, as around 95% of H4 visa holders who have secured work authorizations are women. Before the rule was granted, many women on H4 visas described depression and isolation in moving to a new country and not being allowed to work outside of the home. Unfortunately, these women are losing and will continue to lose their jobs until this is put right, disrupting the lives of their families and the functioning of employers in our districts.”

The legal immigration system has been severely harmed by Trump administration policies. Among other issues, US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently has a backlog of approximately 2.5 million cases, the highest net backlog in nearly two decades. Much of the growth in the case backlog at USCIS has been caused by policy changes that have increased the amount of time it takes to process forms and issue visas, and a tremendous target of these changes has been the H-1B visa program, which allows highly-skilled immigrants, including doctors and nurses, to live and work in the US. Despite the clear need for more medical personnel during the COVID-19 crisis, the Trump administration has issued bans limiting the program, attempted to cripple the program through regulatory changes, and greatly increased the difficulty of obtaining an H-1B visa – simultaneously hampering H4 visa holders and applicants.

The full letter can be found here.