Opinion: Let visa holders continue to contribute

Molika Gupta
Molika Gupta

Families like mine are under threat from the Trump administration, which could decide any day to rescind work authorization for approximately 100,000 individuals like me who hold an H-4 visa, most of whom are women, upending our children’s stability, our careers, and making every aspect of our lives vastly more difficult for no good reason at all.

I came to the U.S. on a visa for dependent spouses. After quickly realizing that I couldn’t work on the dependent visa, I decided to pursue my second master’s, in intellectual property management from an excellent university in Chicago. Pursuing graduate education was an opportunity for me to grow in the career field I’d established in my country of birth, India.

I gained employment immediately post-graduation, and the company I was working with filed my H-1B, but it was not picked up in the lottery. Unfortunately, this meant I had no option but to convert my visa status to H-4. I continued earning interviews from organizations I would have been proud to work for, but due to the visa’s lack of accompanying work authorization, employers could not hire me no matter how qualified I was.

The unpredictability of the H-1B visa lottery and subsequently the non-working H-4 visa ground my career to a halt, preventing me from helping to boost the American economy.

Before I changed to the H-4, I was constantly on my toes, studying, working, pursuing my passion, meeting people. I went from attending meetings on Monday mornings while I was working, to watching Netflix on Monday morning the next week. During the two years that followed, I experienced depression, loneliness, and questioning my self-worth. It was a dark period in my life and my career.

But with the Obama administration’s decision to extend work authorization to individuals like me, I felt like I could visualize my future again. All the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) does is give me the eligibility to apply: I’m competing with the same highly-skilled, native-born American workers that anyone else would be for any job. I’m currently working as a freelance patent licensing professional with a gap on my resume that can make it challenging for employers to understand. I belong to the category of highly-skilled non-IT professionals — and it’s still difficult to secure a permanent position even with the extension of work authorization to H-4 visa holders.

This extension of employment authorization in 2015 was introduced to allow talented immigrant spouses to work during the waiting period to become U.S. citizens, since the huge green card backlog forces a years-long wait for so many. If the Trump Administration revokes our EADs, the effects will be immediate and devastating for families like mine and for the American economy: more than 100,000 individuals already contributing to companies big and small across the U.S. will be ripped out of the workforce in the U.S., resulting in a loss of billions of dollars of productivity, unnecessary red tape for employers, eliminating billions in potential tax earnings at the federal, state, and local levels, and it won’t make anyone better off.

The U.S. is my home — and this harmful change would make it incredibly difficult for me to continue contributing to the community that I love and raising my family here. The unpredictability of whether this policy will be implemented is like a silent torture for thousands of highly-skilled, well-educated women like me. I sincerely hope that the administration makes the right choice for American families and our economy by keeping the work authorization in place, instead of upending the lives of so many of us who are working our hardest every day to do right by the country we love.

Molika Gupta is a patent licensing expert and founder of Immigrant Spouses ReWrite Your Story Group. She lives in Sterling Heights