US to tweak spouse work-visa rules

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 12:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 11:00am


The United States said it would soon start issuing work visas to the spouses of some foreign workers as part of a drive to retain highly skilled people.

The change will affect the spouses of people with so-called H-1B visas, a limited-term working visa that employees obtain when they are sponsored by companies.

At the moment, spouses get a "dependent" H-4 visa that allows them to live in the US but not to work. When spouses cannot work, foreign families tend not to settle in the United States, depriving the US of many workers highly skilled in science and technology.

Under the changes announced on Tuesday, spouses of people with H-1B visas who have applied for permanent residency "green cards" can also apply for permission to work.

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the move would encourage "highly skilled, specially trained individuals" to stay in the United States, and "continue to support US businesses and the growth of the US economy".

"The fact is, we must do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States and these regulations put us on a path to doing that," said US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Silicon Valley welcomed the news. The US information technology hub has for years been pushing for changes.

However, a more ambitious immigration reform, which would go beyond a mere administrative tweak and for example raise the total number of visas available for foreign workers, has been stuck in Congress for nearly a year.

"By sensibly improving these rules, we can help ensure that the most talented foreign innovators conduct their breakthrough research right here at home," said Bruce Mehlamn, head of the Technology CEO Council, a business group bringing together major tech firms like IBM, Dell and Intel.

"Of course these administrative improvements cannot substitute for the bipartisan, common-sense immigration reforms that Congress alone can advance," he said.