"There is no general shortage of skilled labor among U.S. citizens. We have college graduates applying for minimum wage jobs," wrote the opponent.
The spouses are on H-4 dependent visas, which go to immediate family members, including children. While they can't work, they can get driver's licenses and attend school.
Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California at Davis and a leading critic of the H-1B program, drew attention to Regulations.gov postings in his widely read mailings. Matloff wrote that it "is truly outrageous" that U.S. says the proposal is designed to prevent "economic hardship" to the H-1B families.
"What about the economic hardships brought upon Americans by the H-1B (and now, H-4) program?" wrote Matloff.
Susan Cohen, an attorney at Mintz Levin and founder and chair of the firm's immigration practice, said, in an interview, that some work visas do allow spouses to work. The L-1, used for intercompany transfers, is one such visa.
The U.S. rule change would help H-1B workers from India and China, in particular, who have the longest wait for a green card. The U.S. issues green cards under a quota system that considers the country and region. The countries have the longest green card backlogs are India and China.
An H-1B worker from Germany, said Cohen, can get a green card in less than 10 years, but people born in India or China may have to wait five, 10 years or more to finish the green card process because of per country quotas.
"People are being penalized because of their country of birth," said Cohen.
"The primary outcome (of the rule change) will be happier families, because spouses are frustrated when they can't work," said Cohen. "They're just miserable."
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