Google leads court filing supporting tens of thousands of U.S. visa-holders' ability to work

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies during a remote video hearing held by subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on “Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation” in Washington, March 25, 2021.
U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee | Handout | via Reuters

Google is leading an effort to maintain work authorization for tens of thousands of people whose spouses hold H-1B visas, the high-skilled visa that’s common in the tech industry.

Companies across the tech industry, which has been historically vocal in fighting for increased immigration rights, submitted an amicus brief Friday in a case known as Save Jobs USA v. Department of Homeland Security. A Washington district court is considering the plaintiff’s challenge to a DHS rule that allows so-called H-4 visa holders to work legally while their spouses on H-1B visas await green cards.

Google, which organized the effort, and more than two dozen signatories said in the filing that invalidating the rule that allows some H-4 visa-holders to work “would result in these talented individuals being barred from the workplace, forcibly severing tens of thousands of employment relationships across the country.” They wrote that 90,000 H-4 visa-holders would be impacted, 90% of whom are women.

Tech companies that signed onto the amicus brief include Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, eBay, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, PayPal, Reddit, StubHub and Twitter. Several industry groups in tech and other fields like manufacturing signed on as well.

The plaintiff, Save Jobs USA, which identified itself in court filings as a group of computer workers formerly employed by Southern California Edison and “replaced by foreign workers imported on H1B guest worker visas,” has claimed DHS overstepped its authority in allowing for the work authorization of H-4 visa-holders and asked that the rule allowing for it be vacated.

In the amicus brief, Google and other tech companies said such a result “would be utterly destructive for the families impacted; by just one measure, about 87% of these families have made crucial life decisions on the promise of H-4 employment, including whether to have a child and whether to buy a house.”

Since the rule covers H-4 visa-holders whose spouses have been approved for permanent residency but are waiting for a green card, the companies wrote that families in that stage rely on the H-4 rule to bring in a dual income.

The brief also notes that women would be disproportionately impacted if the rule were invalidated, due to the overwhelming percentage of women with H-4 visas. The companies discussed the mental health implications that could come with being stripped of worker status suddenly, including examples of those impacted by visa processing delays developing depression and anxiety.

The companies also said H-4 workers are essential to their operations. Like H-1B visa holders, many H-4 workers have high levels of skill and education, with 99% holding at least a college degree and nearly 60% with a master’s degree or above, according to the brief. Many work in highly skilled fields, with two-thirds of employed H-4 visa-holders working a science, technology and mathematics job, the companies wrote.

They also referenced DHS’ explanation in instituting the rule in 2015, which said that it would help to ease “disincentives” that caused H-1B visa holders to abandon their pursuit of permanent residency, which would minimize “disruptions” to U.S. businesses they work for.” The companies say that economic analysis shows getting rid of the rule would lower U.S. gross domestic product by about $7.5 billion per year and the federal government would lose at least $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue.

Plus, skilled workers who don’t want to deal with the headache of the U.S. immigration system while waiting for a spouse to get a green card are more likely to go to other countries more accepting of their immigration status, the brief says.

The companies contended that harm to U.S. workers is “minimal.”

“Indeed, the estimated job losses to domestic workers from the program are almost exactly canceled out by the 6,800 jobs created by the H-4 entrepreneurs who have founded companies and employ American workers,” they wrote.

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