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Intel Files Support for Work Authorization for Spouses of H-1B Employees

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By Peter Muller, director of Immigration Policy for Intel

In May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a change to immigration law that could significantly improve the lives of thousands of Intel employees and their families by providing employment authorization to spouses of some employees who work in the United States on an H-1B visa. Intel has long supported such a policy and last week we submitted comments to DHS backing the proposed rule and asking that it be broadened.

Intel puts great effort and resources into attracting highly skilled workers. American and foreign-born alike, these engineers and scientists play a vital role in the creating new and groundbreaking technologies that we develop here in the United States.

But in an increasingly competitive global marketplace for talent our nation’s outdated immigration laws hamper our ability to attract and retain key employees. One example is the rule that spouses and dependents of an employee on an H-1B visa are not authorized to work until that employee achieves a permanent work visa – a process that can take as many as 10 years.

Intel’s top immigration reform priority is to significantly reduce the time it takes to get a visa – especially for highly sought-after employees, many of whom were educated in the United States. But until we can achieve fundamental reform to the system it is important to improve the conditions under which employees on an H-1B visa work, including providing employment authorization to their spouses who are often highly accomplished professionals in their own right.

The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule change is an important step in the right direction. It will significantly shorten the period many spouses will have to wait until they are permitted to work and hopefully will be first of many changes to improve the system.

But we do not believe new proposed rule goes far enough. In our comments to the Department, Intel proposes that spouses of all H-1B workers who have an advanced STEM degree from a U.S. university be granted employment authorization much sooner than is anticipated under the DHS rule. We also support the proposal by the Compete America coalition calling for children of H-1B workers, as well as spouses and dependents of workers here on other types of visas, to also qualify for work authorization.

With prospects dimming for Congressional action on immigration reform this year, we will look increasingly to agencies like DHS and the Department of State to provide administrative relief from the challenges we face in the immigration system. Like the proposal for spousal work authorization these efforts will be incremental and will take time but, if done correctly, may be the best hope for making meaningful change to the system.

The Department of Homeland Security is now reviewing the comments it received and is expected to complete the final rule in the coming months.

Read Intel DHS comments here.