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Marco Werman: The fact that this budget crisis was sparked by differences over immigration, well, that is not good news for immigrants in the long run. But here’s some news that a large number of spouses of immigrants are excited about. The US admits some 85,000 H-1B visa holders each year, these are highly skilled immigrants, many work in the tech sector. A lot of them bring their spouses along and they receive H-4 visas. Until now, H-4 visa holders were not allowed to work in the US, but yesterday the Obama Administration announced a visa rule revision for these spouses. Neha Mahajan is excited about this news. She’s the wife of an H-1B visa holder, she lives in New Jersey. Tell us what this revision says and how it’s going to affect you, Neha.
Neha Mahajan: Basically this revision would now let me get an EAD, which is an Employment Authorization Document. With this, I can now get into the market, look for jobs or maybe open my own business. I can also go out and start studying, which I could not earlier because nobody would give me a student loan because I don’t have a SSN. I literally don’t have an identity here in the US because I am dependent on my spouse. When they gave me an H-4 visa, they made sure I was dependent in the real sense.
Werman: How are you feeling about this? Is it as big as “I now have an identity here in the US”?
Mahajan: Absolutely. I can be my real self. I will no longer be my husband’s wife only. I can go out, open up my bank account, I can open up my own business if I want to, I can go and study if I want to. I’m not restricted any more to be just a homemaker.
Werman: How soon will you begin looking for work, and tell me what you do.
Mahajan: I came to the US about seven years ago, and before coming to the US I was a television news reporter. I had taken a break because I had just had a baby at that point. When I was just thinking about getting back to work, my husband’s company decided to send him to the US on this project. Well, I was just too happy to come down and accompany him because, after all, America is the land of dreams. When I came here, somebody did remark “You know, you won’t be allowed to work,” and I was really very positive. I said “I’m sure there must be a way around that.” Soon after entering the US, I contacted a few people in the media section here and they told me quite honestly that it’s just not possible, “Without a work permit, you will not be allowed to work here. Absolutely not.” Nobody would sponsor my H-1 because I am not a technical person, I do not come from a technical background, I’m not a software engineer. So, nobody would sponsor my H-1 and nobody would even let me intern. So, my only hope was to volunteer to keep myself alive, to keep my skills and my education and my talent alive. So, I have volunteered for an organization here in New Jersey that hosts an annual film festival and that’s pretty much what I have done.
Werman: There are estimates that as many as 179,000 spouses could apply for work permits this year. When people say you and other spouses will be taking away jobs from Americans, how do you reply?
Mahajan: I am soon to be an American citizen, because I did come as an immigrant but right now I am in the process of becoming an American citizen. We’ve already applied for a green card. I am your neighbor, I live in the same neighborhood; I pay my taxes even though I don’t earn. I won’t be taking any job from you. I may just become an entrepreneur and would be opening up my own business, if I was allowed to--which I am now. So, I’m not just here to take away jobs.
Werman: Do you know if many immigrant spouses, who will now benefit from this revision on the visa rule, will the ultimately stay here permanently?
Mahajan: Absolutely, yes. The only beneficiaries of this law are those who have already applied for green cards, which is the way to become a citizen.
Werman: Neha Mahajan lives in New Jersey. She’s one of many spouses of highly skilled immigrants who will now be able to work legally in the United States. Thank you Neha for your time.
Mahajan: Thank you so much Marco.