At What Cost: Assessing the High Cost of Removing H-4 Visa Holders from the American Workforce

Late last month the Trump Administration sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review its proposed rule to terminate the work authorization of spouses of H-1B professionals who are patiently waiting in the extensive visa backlogs for their green cards. This policy, often referred to as H-4 EAD, has allowed tens of thousands of immigrant families to support themselves and contribute to their communities in America. Based on new research, we believe rescinding this rule will have significant economic and human costs.

In 2015, the Obama Administration authorized temporary work permits, called Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), for the spouses of H-1B visa holders who were awaiting green cards. These spouses hold H-4 status and according to DHS data, over 90,000 H-4 visa holders have received a work permit since that time, and our study suggests that about three-quarters of those currently hold gainful employment.

We are in the process of analyzing data from a nationwide survey we conducted of H-4 visa holders in which the sample we obtained is both representative and sufficiently large — approximately four percent of the population, an almost unheard-of ratio. Our initial analysis leads us to conclude that the rule rescission should not survive a thorough cost-benefit analysis, which is required for any new or rescinded rule.

Our initial analysis of the collected data shows that any rule change rescinding employment authorization for H-4 visa holders would result in substantial costs to the U.S. economy as well as Federal and State tax coffers. What’s more, those losses would not be offset at all by any increase in employment and income by domestic workers. The survey data demonstrates that H-4 workers are highly skilled, highly educated, and tend to pursue employment in fields with extremely low unemployment rates. There are simply not enough available U.S. workers with the sufficient background and education to fill all of the jobs these H-4 workers are currently doing. Our data suggest that the relatively small gains to U.S. workers in replacing H-4 workers would be fully offset by the jobs lost by other employees if the self-employed H-4 workers were forced to close their businesses and lay off their employees.

By Ike Brannon for FORBES

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