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Concern over work ban for H-1B spouses

100,000 could lose their jobs, tech industry fears brain drain

By Ethan Baron

A White House plan to ban spouses of H-1B visa holders from U.S. work will push about 100,000 people out of their jobs and hit companies with major costs, according to new research.

The Department of Homeland Security, citing President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, has said it plans to exclude “certain” spouses of H-1B workers from work eligibility.

Now, University of Tennessee researchers say that of the 100,000 spouses they expect to lose their jobs if the ban goes ahead, 93 percent are women from India “who held successful jobs and often advanced degrees in their native country before coming to the U.S.A.”

And big American tech firms may feel the fallout, according to researchers Pooja Vijayakumar and Chris Cunningham.

“Cancelling work permits for spouses could negatively affect business operations for major IT companies,” they concluded, noting that the trade group representing Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft and others has opposed the spousal-work ban.

Husbands and wives of banned spouses may leave the U.S. for their home countries or “more expatriate-friendly countries,” the researchers



“This is already visible in the U.S.A., as American-based Indian expatriates are increasingly moving to Canada due to tighter American immigration policies,” the researchers said. “This creates another challenge for the American IT industry, as emigration of these skilled members of the IT workforce creates … brain drain and loss of talent,” they said.

These “failed expatriate assignments” are expensive for U.S. businesses, with the average cost of such a failure ranging from $250,000 to $1 million, according to the researchers.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for reduced immigration, has called the Trump administration’s changes to the H-1B system, including the planned spousal work ban, “small but important steps” toward reforming a system “riddled with abuse and fraud.”

Contact Ethan Baron at 408-920-5011.

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