Spouses of H-1B visa holders can work in US, says judge

The US has so far issued nearly 1,00,000 work authorisations to spouses of H-1B workers, a significantly large number of whom are Indians.

In a big relief for foreign workers in the US tech sector, a judge has ruled that spouses of H-1B visa holders can work in the United States.

In the process, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan dismissed a lawsuit filed by Save Jobs USA which had approached the court to dismiss the Obama-era regulation that gave employment authorization cards to spouses of certain categories of H-1B visa holders.

Tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft had opposed the lawsuit. The US has so far issued nearly 1,00,000 work authorisations to spouses of H-1B workers, a significantly large number of whom are Indians.

In her order, Judge Chutkan said the primary contention of Save Jobs USA is that Congress has never granted the Department of Homeland Security authority to allow foreign nationals, like H-4 visa-holders, to work during their stay in the United States.

But that contention runs headlong into the text of the Immigration and Nationality Act, decades of executive-branch practice and both explicit and implicit congressional ratification of that practice, she wrote.

The judge wrote that Congress has expressly and knowingly empowered the US Government to authorize employment as a permissible condition of an H-4 spouse’s stay in the United States.

The fact that the federal government has had longstanding and open responsibility for authorizing employment for similar visa classes further manifests Congress’ approval of it exercising that authority, she said.

The Department of Homeland Security and its predecessors have authorized employment not just for students, but also for their spouses and dependents, Judge Chutkan wrote in the ruling.

Also, the Department of Homeland Security has long extended work authorization to spouses of foreign government officials and spouses of employees or officers of international organizations, the judge wrote as she dismissed the lawsuit filed by Save Jobs USA.

Ajay Bhutoria, a prominent community leader and advocate for immigrant rights, has applauded the decision by the court to allow H1B spouses to work and support their families.

The H1B visa programme is designed to allow skilled foreign workers to come to the United States and work for American companies. However, until recently, H1B spouses were not allowed to work, which often placed a significant financial burden on families, he said.

“With the court’s decision to allow H1B visa holders’ spouses to work, thousands of families across the country will be able to breathe a little easier. This decision will provide much-needed relief to families who have been struggling to make ends meet and it will help to ensure that these families can stay together and thrive,” Bhutoria said.

“Allowing H1B spouses to work is not just a matter of economic fairness, but it is also a matter of family unity and stability. I applaud the court’s decision, and I hope that this is just the first step towards a more compassionate and equitable immigration system,” he said.

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