h4 work authorization

Why Global Mobility Specialists Should Prepare for Disruption of H4 Work Visa


As a global mobility specialist, one of your priorities is the productivity of your foreign talent. His performance matters a great deal to the company, and ultimately management will measure and weigh the advantages it brings to the organization once assessment and budget renewal time come up.

If your assignee delivers and performs optimally, then management will be more open to hiring more assignees for the next working cycle. If he does not, then you might have to work a little harder and sharpen your persuasion skills the next time you ask them to greenlight your future campaigns to recruit more foreign workers.

An assignee’s performance does not just depend on his intrinsic skills, interest in the job, or passion in fulfilling his goals. Even if he does not talk about it, a huge part of his motivation in doing well is tied up with the welfare of his family.

Many assignees send a portion of their salaries to their families back home, whether these are spouses, children, parents, or assorted relatives. It is important for them to know first-hand that their loved ones are doing well. Any kind of bad news — a sick wife, a child who is unable to take the exams, an elderly mother suffering from dementia and who needs a caregiver — can rattle his mind and distract him from his focus even if he is working thousands of miles away.

The impact — good or bad — can be double if the assignee’s loved ones, especially his spouse and kids, are staying with him in his new country of employment. Expatriate workers take a great comfort of measure and strength in interacting with their partners and kids as they transition in a new landscape. Ultimately, there is nothing more rewarding than just swapping stories with them over dinner after a hard day’s work.

One major key to securing this happiness is the assignee’s spouse. Before she can even create a happy home and hearth for her kids and her husband, she must experience her own sense of joy and fulfillment. The assignee’s perks and the monies he brings home are critical but they are not sufficient. The spouse (usually a wife) must feel that her own life has significance in her new homeland. She needs her own identity, personal vision, and professional goals that are related to, but not identical with, her assignee spouse.

This is why being secure in her own employment is a must for most spouses. A workplace in the United States, where her husband is assigned, that allows her to use her skills and talents boosts her confidence in a way that not all the cocktails, parties, and networking conferences can. She will radiate that confidence and fulfillment at home. The bottom line: an assignee whose spouse has a stable, fulfilling job will become even more productive in his workplace. This is evident once you visit places where assignees and their wives are welcome, such as  diverse-friendly states such as Northern California and tech hubs like Silicon Valley

The current administration’s new stance on the H4 work authorization visa is just about to disrupt that happy setup. This is something that global mobility specialists like yourself should prepare for.

A lot has already been written about the new administration’s decision to slow down the application process of foreign workers for the H-1B visa. But recent statements made by government officials to re-examine the H4 work authorization visa might prove to be more disruptive to your work processes because it can risk disengaging and motivating your assignee.

An H4 work authorization visa allows an assignee’s or a foreign worker’s spouse to work legally in the United States, with the benefits varying per contract. The H4 work authorization is reportedly taking away employment from qualified Americans, with some painting a picture of “bored expatriates’ wives” snatching up meaningful work from the more qualified, educated citizens of the United States.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Assignees’ spouses have to apply like every other applicant, and their individual skills and talents are assessed against the competition. According to the Guardian, there are 200,000 assignee’s spouses who are gainfully employed in the U.S. — and that number is a testament to what they bring to the table. Far from being the foreign equivalent of desperate housewives, they are highly educated, hold doctoral or master’s degrees, and had been executives managing corporations in their country of  origin.

And they — along with their spouses — will be emotionally crushed and professionally disenfranchised should the current administration crack down on the H4 work authorization visa.


This is a scenario that global mobility specialists should prepare for. At a worst case scenario, you can help cushion the blow. On a best case scenario, you can help lay the groundwork to further strengthen their future of employment in the U.S.

Here are some of the things you can do:

Set your assignee’s mind at ease

Ditto with his spouse. Tell them the truth: that regardless of what they see on the news, this is still a possibility, and not a law that has been signed for compliance. Even if  the U.S. Congress eventually sides with anti-H4 proponents, it will take the U.S. government six months to actually implement this. Besides, nobody yet has grappled with the implications. Will the government just command U.S. companies to arbitrarily lay off their foreign workers in an instant, without qualified replacements in the pipeline? That alone will cripple their operations. Will Silicon Valley, which led the outcry against the slowing down of the HB-1 visa, simply stay quiet? The battle is far from over, and the proverbial fat lady has not yet sung her last note.

Study the law and the fine print of the contract of your assignee’s spouse

Let’s say the worst case does happen, and anti-H4 proponents have their way. Still, massive lay-offs will not happen overnight. Check your assignee’s contract to find loopholes or clauses that will make her the exception to the layoff, and allow her to stay. Her accomplishments just might make her irreplaceable. For example, if she brings in the highest amount of sales revenues or has established a network of partners in foreign countries that no other employee can have access to, then her employer will be very hesitant to let her go. And you might have found an ally to support your cause.

Find a backup activity for your assignee’s spouse in case the worst does happen

Employment is not the only thing that can make her feel fulfilled. Volunteering work in non-profit organizations, chairing active committees of projects handled by their country’s embassy in the U.S., and even online work such as translation and teaching that may not need an H4 work authorization can still keep her busy and her talents put to good use.

A happy wife creates a happy home, which keeps an assignee productive and performing. Regardless of how this debate turns out, don’t let any change that happens to the H4 work authorization visa upset that pleasant scenario.