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Spouses of Some H-1B Visa Holders May Be Permitted to Work In the U.S.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Concerned that the U.S. may no longer be as attractive to the best and brightest among the world’s scientific, academic, artistic and business talent, the Obama administration is taking steps to staunch a potential brain drain. In an upcoming round of rule-making, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will propose a series of regulations aimed at easing the immigration path for talented entrepreneurs, scholars and other highly talented individuals from other countries.

Bolstered by support from the business community and several other outspoken groups, the proposed rules are a positive step toward keeping the U.S. competitive in the face of an increasingly globalized marketplace for – well, just about everything. American firms and institutions have historically relied on minds from all over the world to remain at the cutting edge of global competition – think Einstein at Princeton; Google’s founders; and any number of foreign-born actors, artists and writers – and the rules will help contribute substantially to the economy, promote the creation of new jobs and enhance the innovation that keeps the U.S. competitive.

According to a DHS statement, “These proposed regulations include rules authorizing employment for spouses of certain high-skill workers on H-1B visas, as well as enhancing opportunities for outstanding professors and researchers.” The release went on to say that the new measures will “build on continuing DHS efforts to streamline, eliminate inefficiency, and increase the transparency of the existing immigration system, such as by the launch of Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource centre that gives immigrant entrepreneurs an intuitive way to navigate opportunities to start and grow a business.”

While a step in the right direction, it appears that approval for the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. will be somewhat limited. For now, only spouses of talented immigrants working in the science and technology fields – along with a slim number of others – are likely to be approved to work in the U.S. The H-1B work visas for specialty occupation professionals have been most beneficial for IT sector professionals. As per the Congressional mandated cap, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can allocate a maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas (plus an additional 20,000 for individuals possessing a graduate degree from a U.S. insitution) for the fiscal year 2015 beginning October 1, 2014.  This cap has been reached within the first 5 days of the “filing season,” with USCIS receiving an unprecedented 172,500 petitions competing for the limited quota.

The White House also announced that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are set to launch a new, collaborative effort geared toward empowering entrepreneurial scientists and addressing the critical gap between fundamental research and developing a commercial entity based on such research. While these initiatives do not address all of the larger issues that require more broadly-based immigration reform, they are steps in the right direction when it comes to keeping the best and the brightest coming to the U.S.

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