Nonimmigrants’ spouses seek right to work legally in U.S.

Drivers license, credit card and passport (Coral Lu/ Medill)

By Coral Lu

Aya Saito came to the United States last year with her husband. She used to work at a coffee shop in Japan, and she became a housewife after moving to Chicago. As an F-2 visa holder, she is planning to apply for a H-4 visa after her husband finds a job.

Because of her visa status, she is not allowed to work at all or enroll as a full-time student.

“I really want to work, but if I don’t have a right to work, it will be stressful for both of us,” Saito said.

Saito, 32, is among an estimated 21,250 dependent spouses who could benefit from a policy that would enable her to work in the U.S. without limitations or restrictions to job opportunities. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 179,600 H-4 visa holders are expected to apply for the Employment Authorization Document in the first year.

Saito, who is eligible to apply for H-4 visa status on May 26, was worried about the future because her husband would be the only source of daily income once her visa status changed to H-4. After she heard about the new policy, she said she definitely wanted to get a job if she can get the working permission.

Now, she is taking a language course to improve her English.

Caroline Tsao, the owner of 527 Café, said she believes each person has the equal opportunity to work as long as it’s legal, but she will be more likely to hire the applicant who can speak multiple languages.

“Some Taiwanese food’s names cannot be translated directly from English, so sometimes it sounds weird,” Tsao said. “When we have customers from China, if the employee can speak Mandarin to them, the communication will be easier.”

The new policy is not only going to help immigration family financially, but also possibly change the gender roles, according Dhenu Savla, immigration attorney at SwagatUSA in Chicago.

Savla said some H-4 visa holders are educated and even more educated than their spouses in some situations, but they are not eligible to work in the U.S. due to their visa statuses.

“I think this is one of those policies that is going to bring some changes in the relationship between a man and a woman because a lot of women are the ones that stuck with H-4, and their spouses are working, which creates a really big imbalance in the family,” Savla said.

Photo at top: Soon H-4 visa holders will be able to legally work in the United States. (Coral Lu/Medill)