Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles. She has worked with Oltarsh & Associates for several years and has an extensive understanding of issues faced by immigrants (specifically women) today.
Women that immigrate to the United States do so looking for opportunities to live healthier, happier lives for themselves-and oftentimes for their families, too. But a transition into a new life and country isn’t always easy.
In 2011, more than half of all the people receiving a green card were women. These women immigrants in the US have suffered abuse at home and in the workplace, been victims of sex trade and have been denied health care, and the use of federal Medicaid.
Some have even been denied the right to work at all.
Through my association with an immigration lawyer in New York, I learned a lot about the struggles female immigrants face that I had never even heard of before, in particular the H-4 visa. The facts that I found out about these immigrants in interaction with the lawyer are mentioned below in the article.
What Is The H-4 Visa?
The H-4 visa is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to the immediate family (spouses and children) of non-resident immigrant workers. People holding H-4 visas are not given social security numbers and are ineligible for employment, which is usually a surprise to them.
This means they cannot legally work in the United States. No matter how educated, skilled, and deserving these women are, no company can hire them for employment.
This can leave tension in an immigrant household. With no employment, many H-4 holding women are beaten by their highly skilled spouses and because divorce is still a kind of taboo, most of these women do not speak out against their abusive partner.
H-4 visa holders are allowed to study, but most women immigrating to the U.S. have already studied in their country and would like to seek full-time employment. Some resort to reinvesting in their education when they arrive in the United States. However, H-4 visa holders are not allowed to take any student loans, which then leaves their spouses responsible for massive personal loans.
The immigrants coming to the United States are usually skilled workers eager to work and/or start their own business. At least 25% of tech start-ups in the United States in recent years have been founded by immigrants. Unfortunately, H-4 prohibits immigrants from owning their own business, yet again leaving a family in financial turmoil.
The Effects of an H-4 Visa
In most cases, Indian women are issued an H-4 visa when they come to the United States to meet their husbands, generally as part of an arranged marriage. Some are united with husbands they met through online websites, found by their parents.
These marriages are arranged with complete strangers, and it isn’t until they arrive that they realize the H-4 visa they are holding makes them unqualified to work once they are living in the United States. They are in a new country, starting on a new family, and this leaves many women stuck “fulfilling” their duties of playing the conventional female role in the marital relationship.
This is the cause of confusion, depression and in rare cases even suicide.
In response to this problem, Indian women all over the U.S. have created tight-knit communities for themselves where they take up hobbies together like shopping, cooking and working out. These groups create a sort of safe haven for these women, harnessing the abilities of the individuals since they are unable join the U.S. workforce.
Unfortunately not all Indian women are fortunate enough to locate these groups or have one in close proximity to their geographical location. But with the new wave of technology and social media, it is becoming easier for women to unite and take action.
On Facebook there is a group called “H-4 Visa, A Curse”, with over 2,300 members and counting. They share stories, advice and political tactics, in an effort to change H-4 visas to something more useful like the L-2 visa, which gives the spouse a right to employment.
Purpose of this article is to raise awareness on the issue of immigration in the United States, specially for Indian women so they know what they are stepping into, before they decide to move to the country. An informed decision can make that much more difference to your life.