Chopped Wings: The Women Caught In The H4 Visa Trap

Many Indian women entering the US as dependants on an H4 visa end up with their potential utterly wasted. Here is an overview of their situation, and what should be done.

Many Indian women entering the US as dependants on an H4 visa end up with their potential utterly wasted. Here is an overview of their situation, and what should be done.

Barack Obama proudly declared from El Paso, “In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the United States were founded by immigrants, leading to more than 200,000 jobs in America. He emphasized further,“Highly skilled immigrants create jobs, they do not take jobs.”

Yet, the country blatantly refuses legal employment to over 100,000 highly talented dependants.

Wasted potential of women on H4

Every year the US issues 65000 H1 (skilled worker) visas. If 50% of these applicants are married, there are about 32,500 people, who are on H4 visas, issued to those dependent on an H1 visa holder. To this number, add the amount of people who are already in the States on H4 visas from the previous years. Given that the validity of the H4 visa is linked to that of the term span given to an H1 visa holder, on an average a person lives on an H4 Visa for 6 years in the US.

As such, at any given point, some 100,000 highly eligible and employable candidates, many of them women, are squandering their potential. In no other country would this economically draining scenario be permitted. Yet the USA trudges on, screaming foul in the face of immigration reform.

“Highly skilled immigrants create jobs, they do not take jobs.”

“The women in Saudi Arabia have more rights than the wives of H1 workers. It is inhuman the way we treat them,” said Vivek Wadhwa, Director of Research, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Fellow, Stanford Law School, and Vice President of Innovation and Research, Singularity University, when testifying on the Immigration reform proposals in DC.

The most recent USCIS data quoted in a study by the Brookings Institution suggests that 58 per cent of the H-1B visas are granted to Indians. Indians are primarily economic immigrants, unlike many others fleeing from places of political turmoil. So when this promise of a better life remains unfulfilled ad infinitum, the consequences affect not just the H4 visa holder but also the skilled H1 visa bearer.

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How H4 impacts women and children from around the world

Currently over 50,000 Indians are in this position but the H4 issue is not just an Asian-centric issue.  As Audrey Belliard Smit, a French citizen,decries in Marie Claire after donning the dependant hat, “It was a shock…I was very career-driven; professional success has always been a big thing for me.” Audrey had worked with Microsoft and AOL and is bitter about the unchanging, outdated, and stagnant policy. “I need out of this situation. I need the freedom to do what I want with the skills I have. I could do so much more.”

She is not alone. Children of H1 workers who arrive on an H4 visa must change their status to F1 if attending college or university when they turn 21. Failing to do so would result in deportation to their countries of origin. Although this caused serious debate in various forums and Obama had successfully arrived at a solution acceptable to both major American parties, the DREAM act is yet to be enacted into law.

“The women in Saudi Arabia have more rights than the wives of H1 workers. It is inhuman the way we treat them”

Immigration officials rebuff automatic employment authorization for dependant spouses as a free two for one pass, yet this rebuttal flies in the face of L2 visa holders. Spouses of L-1 Visa Holders (L-2 Visa Holders) are permitted to work in the United States and are provided with employment authorized endorsement or appropriate work permit on arrival.

Currently, a H4 visa holder has to wait for anywhere between 6-18 years (while the primary H1 and green card is under process) to be eligible for a work permit or to run/own a business venture. H4 visa holders can pursue education but they are prohibited from part time jobs and denied scholarships and financial aid. As lawmakers grapple with the policies, the wait time for a dependent visa holder eats through their most productive years. This protracted passage of time extinguishes any hope of meaningful employment.

Banding together to change the H4

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) which was passed in the Senate and is being battled over in the house has a specific clause for H4 employment authorization.

Homeland Security (the Department that oversees work authorization for H4) has however clarified that it planned to extend employment authorization only to those qualified within the H4 population who “have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment and have extended their authorized period of admission,” in the U.S, as stated by the Hindu.


Immigration Reform







Credits: H4 Visa, a Curse Facebook Group

H4 visa, a curse, a Facebook group (with 1000+ members) founded by Rashi Bhatnagar, wages a passionate campaign to break the shackles that cage H4 dependents. By highlighting their dormant skill-sets and voicing their pitiable situation (with no Social Security Number or driving license), they hope to bring an end to this depressing saga which often includes domestic physical abuse. If you are on H4 you can join this group, visit the blog, and volunteer towards the multitude of activities that are organized, like signing petitions or commenting on legal forums, etc.

Immigration reform is not just a border issue; it is an economic and enterprise issue. The American dream, that life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, is an illusion for some. Women holding H4 visas often sport a competent skill set and harbor entrepreneurial talent. America, long celebrated as the land of immigrants, is choking from the tightening immigration impasse. For dependents that arrive every day, this land of opportunity remains a land of denial – and that has to change.

Top image: CIR Now



About the Author


Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a SAP Consultant. She also pursues her passion for writing focusing on all things India — women, travel, immigration, food and cinema read more...

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