Why Trump’s Plan to Forbid Spouses of H-1B Visa Holders to Work Is a Bad Idea

On Dec. 14, the Trump administration announced a regulatory change that would strip spouses of high-skilled foreign workers of the right to work in the United States. 

The apparent aim is to promote Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued in April. It’s also part of efforts to scale back the H-1B visa program, which allows workers to bring spouses and children under H-4 visas. 

Besides likely having a negative impact on industries that use H-1B visas, such as information technology, software development and finance, my own research shows that it will also, intentionally or not, disproportionately harm women. 

Immigration Policy and Families

There is no shortage of opinions about the merits and drawbacks of the H-1B program. 

Critics argue that the program has been abused by companies that seek to replace American workers or pay them lower wages. Advocates, meanwhile, point out that foreign workers increase innovation and bring in much-needed high-skilled labor. 

But there is another consideration left out of this debate: how the program directly affects the lives of the workers and their families. 

Historically, family reunification has played a contentious role in US immigration policy. Starting with the Page Law of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, women (predominately from Asia) were barred from migrating either as spouses or on their own. These laws were responsible for creating “bachelor societies” of immigrant men and limited the establishment of permanent Asian communities in the United States. 

Changes to immigration law in the mid-20th century began to recognize the need for family migration. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 further reversed earlier policy by giving naturalized citizens and legal permanent residents the power to sponsor family members and made reunification a weighted factor for immigration consideration. 

1990 law opened new avenues for family-based migration, creating…

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