WEST JORDAN — Congressman Ben McAdams heard first-hand Tuesday how a plan in the works by President Donald Trump to rescind work permissions for 90,000 legal immigrants could turn the lives of some Utah families into utter turmoil.
At issue is a program launched in 2015 under the administration of then President Barack Obama to create a pathway for the spouses of those holding H-1B visas — a document that allows employment, with company sponsorship, of those with highly specialized skill sets and high levels of technical education — to also work legally in the U.S.
The group that met with McAdams included numerous couples, some who have worked legally for years in Utah, and who are all on the path to citizenship. They detailed the disruptions that would occur should the Trump proposal go through, and noted their lives right now are in limbo as they await an outcome.
Ashutosh Gupta, who is working on an H-1B visa, said he and other visa holders are unable to make simple but important life decisions without knowing what the future, and possible changes, will bring.
"I know a couple who were just married who feel they cannot make plans to start a family," Gupta said. "We all have to, obviously, think of what could happen."
Ashish Patel said he worries that continued uncertainty about visa policies could put his family in a dilemma when his children turn 18 and are no longer covered by his visa.
The threat to pull back the H-4 work program has been floating around since Trump took office, and a lawsuit focused on the issue has been in abeyance for over a year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recently submitted the H-4 employment authorization document cancellation proposal to the Office of Management and Budget, with a request for expedited processing. That review, which began on Feb. 20, will be followed by a 30-60 day comment period, after which the rule change could go into effect.
Earlier this month, McAdams posted a letter to Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, pushing back on the administration's plan to erase the H-4 work program and noting that the revocation effort would harm Utah families and damage Utah's economy. He also made a run at finding some common ground with the president in his plea for reconsideration.
"While I share the administration's concern that our nation's current immigration system needs bold and comprehensive reform, I firmly believe that depriving H-4 visa holders of the opportunity to work will not improve our immigration system and will hinder our nation's economic success," McAdams wrote.
Several of those who met with McAdams on Tuesday are current employees of computer software giant Adobe, a company that is in the midst of an expansion in Utah representing a $90 million capital investment and plans to double its workforce to over 2,000.
An Adobe spokeswoman said the company believes the Trump proposal to rescind the work program for spouses of H-1B holders would lead to adverse outcomes.
“Adobe, like many technology companies, relies on the H-1B program to fill specialized technical and professional roles – allowing us to recruit and retain a competitive workforce," the spokeswoman said in a statement. "We believe the removal or reduction of the H-4 visa program – which exists to support the immediate family members of H-1B holders – could make it harder to recruit top talent, and potentially have an adverse effect on workforce diversity. Adobe supports a working program and fair access to H1-Bs for our employees and H-4s for their immediate family members.”
Karolina Filipiak, director of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based tech industry group Information Technology Industry Council, told the Deseret News the H-4 work program plays a key role in keeping the U.S. a competitive player in the global tech market.
“The H-4 EAD rule helps grow the U.S. economy and bolsters the United States' global competitiveness by incentivizing innovators and job creators to come to the United States to work instead of other countries," Filipiak said in a statement. "We urge the administration to keep this critical program intact and work with the business community to preserve predictability for employers and employees alike.”
McAdams said he hasn't heard a rationale from the Trump administration for getting rid of the work program and said he'd be working with congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle to garner support for protecting H-4 visa holders' right to work. He also noted legislative efforts were underway in both the U.S. Senate and House, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, which could help ease some of the pressure associated with work visa programs by changing current federal quotas on the issuance of green cards. The pair of bills has also earned the backing of a number of other members of Utah's congressional delegation.
McAdams said as a father of four, the stories he heard on Tuesday about the family impacts that could come from visa program changes are ones that resonate deeply.
"I know at a statistical, data level how important it is to solve this issue," McAdams said. "But hearing these folks talk about their kids and their families is moving. If I was ever put in a situation where when my kids turned 18 they'd have to leave the country, or I needed to leave the country while my kids stayed here … I could just never do it."