Spouses of high-skilled work visa holders may now apply for work permits

Until now, the dependent spouses of high-skilled foreign workers could not legally work in the United States. A rule change will allow many to apply for their own work permits starting Tuesday.
Until now, the dependent spouses of high-skilled foreign workers could not legally work in the United States. A rule change will allow many to apply for their own work permits starting Tuesday.
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Starting Tuesday, the dependent spouses of certain H-1B work visa holders may apply for work permits of their own.  Until now, the spouses of these high-skilled foreign workers have been barred from working in the United States - even if they themselves are highly skilled.

Like Arti Lohar, for example. She has an MBA. When she lived in her native India she worked in information technology – just like her husband. He's the one who currently holds a visa to work in the United States. For the last five years, Lohar has had to stay home.

“I’m so happy that the government has taken into consideration those people who have had such a long break," said Lohar, 31, who lives in Simi Valley.

She's planning to apply for a work permit right away, and look for a job in IT as soon as it comes through.

Asian American advocates spent years pushing for the change, which had already been in the works when President Obama included it in his executive action announcement last November.

Manju Kulkarni of the South Asian Network in Artesia says many who will benefit are women from South Asia, along with their families.

“What it really does is it facilitates the family’s integration into American society," Kulkarni said. "When you have two potential income earners, and only one is able to work, that can really put their family at an economic disadvantage.”

Those eligible to apply will be spouses of high-skilled visa holders who have applied for permanent resident status or extended their visas.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, these will be spouses of H-1B holders who:

It’s estimated that close to 180,000 dependent spouses could become eligible to work just in the first year. As many as 55,000 could be eligible annually in coming years.

Those who plan to apply have been preparing, sharpening their job skills. Lohar has been brushing up on her IT knowledge online. Shalini Sharma, who last spoke with KPCC in February, said she's on her way to obtaining a real estate license.

"I have starting taking the exams and everything," said Sharma, who lives in Irvine and worked as an architect in India. "So I'm looking forward to the final exam now...I'm feeling good about it."

She's also been taking architecture courses, in case a job in that field comes through.

More details can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.