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Changes to the U.S. Visa Program Could Be Good News for Techies

3 minute read

The White House has proposed reforms that would make life easier for many families moving to the U.S. to work in the country’s tech sector.

The proposed immigration changes, announced on May 6, would allow the spouses of certain H-1B visa holders to work in the United States, if the holders are in the process of applying for permanent residence.

“Once enacted, this proposed rule would empower these spouses to put their own education and skills to work for the country that they and their families now call home,” Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker wrote on the White House blog. “These actions promise to unleash more of the extraordinary contributions that immigrants have always made to America’s economy.”

The news is sure to come as a relief to many. India, for example, has thousands of skilled citizens working in U.S. on H-1B visas — many currently living in frustrating situations that have been an ongoing subject of Indian media coverage.

Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice president of the National Association for Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), says the proposed changes would benefit both India and the U.S.

Like families from elsewhere, “People [in India] were going irrespective of the fact that their spouses couldn’t work. They were making that tough decision,” Gupta says. But now, not only will conditions be easier on Indian families, the U.S. will benefit from the “phenomena of women who were so underutilized.”

U.S. tech companies have been lobbying for these changes, among others, to the H-1B visa program. Demand for the visas surged this year. Leaders in the industry say the program’s existing regulations — including the inability of spouses to work and the current annual limit of 85,000 on the number of visas granted under the program — puts the U.S. at a disadvantage in terms of attracting the best of the global work force.

The proposed changes were not, however, welcomed by all. Though the fact that they would allow spouses to contribute to the local economy is considered a boon by supporters like Gupta, that’s exactly what opponents take exception to. Charles Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, told the New York Times that Obama’s administration announcement demonstrated a “lack of compassion and understanding” for unemployed Americans by expanding work benefits to immigrants.

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