For H-1B workers, one of the most hated and frustrating parts of working in the U.S. is this: Their spouses were idled, unable to work under law. That changed in 2014, when President Obama signed a regulation that allowed some spouses to get a job. But the future of this rule may be in doubt under the new administration.
President Donald Trump's administration, which is broadly repealing Obama-era regulations, is reviewing the H-1B spouse rule as well, according to a new court filing.
The Obama rule change affected H-1B holders who were seeking green cards or permanent residency. It allowed their spouses to get work authorization. There may have been as many as 180,000 spouses eligible, according to a lawsuit that's challenging this rule.
After the Obama administration finalized the spouse rule, a group of former IT workers at Southern California Edison (SCE) -- who were laid off after training their replacements -- filed a lawsuit arguing that this new regulation was not only unlawful but unfair.
SCE "replaced 540 American computer programmers with low paid programmers from India imported on [the] H-1B guest workers' visa," argued the plaintiffs in in court papers. Allowing the spouses to work was "specifically designed to increase the supply of foreign labor in the United States."
The laid-off SCE workers believed that many of the affected spouses will seek work in computer occupations.
This court challenge, which was dismissed in federal district court, is now in appellate court in the District of Columbia. On Feb. 1, the Trump administration filed a motion requesting a 60-day abeyance to April 2.
John Miano, the attorney representing the SCE workers, said if the court grants the abeyance it will give the new administration time to decide how to argue the case.
On the other hand, the prohibition on spouses working was a source of enormous frustration among H-1B workers and their families. More than 12,000 filed comments with the government, many in support of the rule change.
One wrote of a spouse with an engineering degree on a H-4 visa who had been in the U.S. for seven years but was unable to work. But another commenter, opposing the rule change, said that her daughter was unable to get nothing but temporary work for the past five years.