While most immigration policy attention is focused on a possible "comprehensive reform" bill and on the ongoing White House-created amnesty for "childhood arrivals", both involving massive numbers, the administration continues to press forward to also bring in small flows of additional migrants (and workers) by tweaking the existing system.
Today's examples of proposed small flows — neither one curtailed in any way by numerical limits — relate to two extremes of the migrant population:
- The spouses of some of the best-paid H-1B workers (professionals); and
- Teenage and young adult children of crime victims (probably a poverty-stricken group).
The elite spouses, already on the road to green card status, would be allowed to work, as would the crime victims' children, who will also be put on the (easy) path to a green card. The numbers are not alarming, but the overall tendency to open the borders, in any way possible, is.
The elite group favored by the proposed rule change is a subset of the H-4 population of nonimmigrants; these, in turn, are the spouses of some H-1B workers, people who now can live in the United States legally, but cannot now work legally. Were the administration to persist in its current strategy these nonimmigrants would be able to work in the United States.
Because we need an additional supply of workers, right?
Currently H-4 workers include spouses of all H classes of nonimmigrants, including farm workers (H-2A) and non-ag unskilled workers (H-2B), but most of the H-4s are spouses of the much-higher-paid H-1B workers; the other two classes of workers cannot afford, in most cases, to bring their families with them to the States. There were 74,205 H-4 visas issued by the Department of State in FY 2011, which suggests that the total population of H-4s (something the government does not bother to count) would be in the quarter of a million range.
But only a triple-screened segment of the H-4 population will qualify for work permits in the proposed program. The specific qualifications are: 1) they must be spouses of H-1Bs -- spouses of those in other categories are not covered; 2) the H-1Bs must have been here for at least three years; and 3) the H-1Bs must have been selected by their employers for green cards. Bear in mind that not all H-1Bs that meet these standards are married, so we are probably dealing with a spousal population measured in the tens of thousands.
Since most H-1Bs are from India and China, and since most of them have at least a bachelor's degree, the chances are their spouses are relatively well-educated and are from Asia. Since only the cream of the H-1B crop wind up being cleared for green cards by their employers, we are not discussing a disadvantaged group of spouses.
My sense is that the H-1Bs who have gotten as far as a green card nomination are likely to stay in the United States, so there is no need to allow their spouses to work, but that bit of reality has not reached the government. The Homeland Security rationale for bringing in these extraneous workers (which sounds as if it were written by the Chamber of Commerce) is as follows:
Allowing the eligible class of H-4 dependent spouses to work encourages professionals with high demand skills to remain in the country and help spur the innovation and growth of U.S. companies.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated move, USCIS has decided to make getting a green card easier for the young-adult relatives of alleged crime victims, in many cases the offspring of an abusive alien husband/father whose spouse (or ex-spouse or ex-partner) has secured a U (victim's) visa for herself. The interim policy memorandum, designed to get around the aging-out provisions of the law (which bar children over 21 from getting a green card as a by-product of a parent's green card), can be seen here.
The people getting this benefit are U-3 nonimmigrants, but if all goes well for them, they may get green cards later. There is no numerical ceiling on such migrants, though there is a 10,000 ceiling for the principal applicant (usually the mother.) There were 1,085 adjustments to green card from U-3 status in FY 2011, according to the 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
My sense is that all of the H-4 beneficiaries of the proposed program are in the country legally, and that many of the U-3 grantees probably had been in illegal status.