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US faces pressure to review to H-1B policy on fears of losing talented workers to Canada

A study has claimed that the US economy can reap significant benefits and attract more workers in the global competition if it starts expanding the current rules on work eligibility for the spouses of H-1B visa holders.

According to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), US’ H-1B visa rules are more restrictive than neighbouring Canada. Under the current circumstances the US might start losing talented foreigners, essentially those married to skilled workers to Canada if changes in policies are not made, it said.

To defend its suggestions, the study presented new estimates of the number and characteristics of the spouses of skilled temporary foreign workers in the United States. It found that most H-1B visa holders are married to another skilled professional, but only a fraction of their spouses are eligible to work. “While this regulation has benefited many spouses, their families, and the US economy, it is much more restrictive than Canada’s rule, which grants work authorization to all spouses of skilled workers,” the NFAP added.

Under the current Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulation, the spouses of H1-B visa holders who are in the queue or on a permanent visa can apply to work while they wait for their green card. A policy change that allows all spouses of H-1B visa holders to work would have significant economic potential, it said.

The report mentioned that currently, H-4 spouses may only apply for Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD) after their H-1B spouse is in the queue for a permanent visa. That typically does not occur until the H-1B has worked in the United States for several years.

It typically takes 6-8 months for employment authorization to actually be granted after an application is submitted. This long and uncertain wait motivates some H-4 spouses to find a job with an employer who will sponsor them for their own work visa, it added.

The study author Madeline Zavodny suggested that allowing all spouses of H-1B visa holders to work would bring that visa in line with several other categories of skilled temporary worker visas.

Canada allows spouses of skilled temporary work visa holders to work, making it an attractive destination for dual-professional couples. The United States risks losing talented foreigners, particularly those married to other skilled professionals, to Canada. This already may be happening: “The number of Indians who became permanent residents in Canada increased by over 115% between 2016 and 2020 and 2021″.

In addition, the number of Indian students attending Canadian colleges and universities increased by 182% between 2016 and 2019, while declining during the same period in graduate-level programs in science and engineering at US universities.

The report mentioned that “Granting employment authorization to all spouses of H-1B visa holders would encourage more skilled migrants to choose the United States”. “Research has shown that the H-1B visa category boosts US economic growth, creates jobs for American workers, and slows offshoring of high-paid jobs. Extending work eligibility to the spouses of H-1B visa holders would help the United States garner more of the economic benefits that skilled foreign workers create,” it added.

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