The White House today said it is giving final approval to a rule change that will allow some H-1B visa workers' spouses to get jobs.
Beginning May 26 -- 90 days from today -- the spouses of H-1B holders applying for permanent residency will be able to get work authorizations. Under current rules they cannot hold a job.
About 97,000 people will be eligible for employment in the first year of this rule change.
Many of the spouses are highly skilled, said Leon Rodriguez, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, during a telephone briefing for reporters. "They are in many cases, in their own right, high-skilled workers of the type that frequently seek H-1Bs," said Rodriguez.
The White House officials on the call were asked about an effort by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to increase the H-1B cap. Hatch's I-Square bill increases the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000, and eliminates the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, education and math) field.
Stand-alone H-1B bills have run into opposition in the past from supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
On the prospects of the Hatch bill, should it make it to the president's desk, Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the administration has a "very strong preference to do that (take up the H-1B issue), as part of a comprehensive bill."
Munoz didn't say whether the White House would support the cap increases sought in the Hatch bill, if it is included in a comprehensive immigration bill.
The IEEE-USA has said the Hatch bill will "help destroy" the U.S. workforce with guest workers. The engineering group favors permanent immigration instead of the use of guestworkers, and applauded the decision to allow spouses of H-1B holders who are seeking green cards to apply for jobs.
"This is a useful reform that will improve the lives of thousands of H-1B families and recognizes that green cards are the goal," said Jim Jefferies, the group's president. "But it is important to remember that most H-1B workers are never sponsored for green cards, particularly if they work for outsourcing companies."
The IEEE-USA is critical of U.S. worker displacement with foreign workers, and has cited the replacement of 500 IT workers at Southern California Edison by H-1B workers from offshore outsourcing companies as an abuse of the program.
Employment for H-1B spouses is controversial. During the U.S. comment period, there were many comments from people who saw the increase of foreign skill workers as more competition for jobs.
White House officials, however, on the call argued that these permanent resident will help bring job growth.