In 2015, the Obama administration modified the immigration rules to allow the spouses of H-1B visa holders who are applying for permanent residence to work in the United States. The move proved to be a popular one as 91,000 H-4 visa holders in North Carolina and around the country later filed applications. However, President Trump has been a harsh critic of H-1B visas, which allow employers to hire skilled foreign workers, and he has vowed to scrutinize all aspects of the program.

Trump’s position and rhetoric worried H-4 visa holders during the election campaign, and their fears were realized in February when the Department of Homeland Security proposed scrapping the Obama-era rule. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. If adopted, the DHS proposal would most affect women from China and India where immigration waiting lists are among the longest in the world.

The proposed rule change could also prompt H-1B visa holders to reconsider their options. Many of the skilled foreign workers awarded these visas are employed by companies based in cities like San Francisco and New York where living costs are extremely high, and the workers may conclude that pursuing permanent residency is financially unrealistic if they have to rely on just one paycheck.

Attorneys with experience in immigration cases may advise worried H-4 visa holders about their legal options as the laws remain poised to change. Attorneys might suggest pursuing other paths to legal residence or citizenship in the United States. For example, H-4 recipients may be able to pursue a nonspousal employment-based visa like an H-1B or an entrepreneur visa like an EB-1 if they have extraordinary abilities.