Google is urging the federal government to unravel red tape costing foreign workers their jobs, but Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna says processing delays at the root of the problem will likely continue until COVID is under control.
Across the U.S., H-4 visa holders — nearly all Indian women and many in the technology industry — are losing employment to a federal government order requiring them to obtain heavily backlogged fingerprinting services to renew visas and work permits even when they’ve provided their prints before. Others on the H-4 are out of work because work permit processing itself is severely backed up.
The permit for H-4 workers, available since 2015 for people married to H-1B visa holders who are on track for green cards, “has been important to the business community to attract and retain skilled workers,” Google spokesman José Castañeda said in a rare public comment from the Mountain View technology giant on a specific foreign-worker issue. Google declined to say how many of its workers may be affected by the backlogs.
“Unfortunately, the processing delays are disrupting the lives of countless workers and their families,” he said, adding that Google is urging the federal government to eliminate repetitive fingerprinting and “clear the logjam.”
As Pooja Malviya, a Palo Alto software engineer whose work permit expires Thursday, put it, “It’s not like my fingerprints have changed.”
No reliable estimates exist for how many of the nation’s 100,000 H-4 holders with work permits have lost their jobs or are at risk because of the backlogs. The visas and work permits must be renewed every one to three years, depending on the visa status of the spousal H-1B holder.
Khanna, D-Silicon Valley, said he’s been hearing “a lot” from constituents affected by the problem. “There are many highly skilled women of color who are active contributors to our economy and they’re unable to work,” Khanna said by phone. He is one of five dozen Democratic members of Congress asking President Joe Biden in a letter to extend work permits until fingerprinting delays are resolved.
Work authorization for H-4 holders was meant to fix gender disparities leading to women becoming depressed and isolated in their homes, the letter said. That’s happening again, visa holders said.
“I have started having anxiety and depression issues,” said Malviya, 31, who came to the U.S. from India in 2016. She worries that her employer, after recently promoting her, will have to put her on unpaid leave indefinitely. She does not want to return to being financially dependent on her husband as she was for her first six months in this country. “I’m highly qualified,” she said. “A right to work is a basic right.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration, in a financial crisis after its fee intake plunged amid an immigration crackdown under the administration of former President Donald Trump, has attributed the fingerprinting delays to fallout from the COVID-related shutdown of biometrics collection at 132 sites across the country between March and June last year. Collection centers began reopening in phases starting in July with social distancing and fewer appointments.