The issue: A work visa program may end, putting the jobs of thousands at risk.

Tell us what you think: Send us an email at editorial@csbj.com.

What we think: Our elected officials should fight to allow H-4 EAD visa holders the right to work.

Imagine your car has broken down and all you need is a wrench to fix it. Now imagine that you have the proper set of tools in your vehicle, wrench and all, but you are not allowed to use them because they were made overseas.

Sound like you’d be cutting off your nose to spite your face?

It’s a loose metaphor, but apt if thousands of highly educated, highly skilled H-4 spousal visa holders in Colorado lose their work permits in the next year.

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In 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services implemented a new rule: “Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses.” The law allowed people on H-4 visas — spouses of H1-B visa holders — who’ve started the green card application process  toward citizenship to apply for H-4 employment authorization, known as H-4 EAD. The program was designed as a work-around for immigrants from highly populated countries who were stalled by the government’s green card application backlog. In the ensuing four years, more than 120,000 people, the majority of them women from China and India, have received these work permits.

But in response to President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order in April 2017, the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that encompasses U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, began planning to rescind H-4 EAD. The proposed rule voiding the program is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget.

For a country (and especially for a state like Colorado) that has myriad workforce needs — including worker shortages in health care and high tech — revocation would be a move in the wrong direction.

Colorado is home to more than 15,000 H1-B visa holders and 7,700 H-4 visa holders. If H-4 EAD were revoked, the state would have a multitude of stranded assets who could be contributing not only to the workforce, but to our tax base as well. We would also be throwing away the very valuable workplace diversity these newcomers bring to our economy.

Fortunately, the H-4 EAD program has garnered support from some heavy hitters: Earlier this year tech industry giants and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged the Department of Homeland Security not to rescind the rule, arguing that H-4 visa holders “often have experience and education in vital occupations — from academic researchers, to medical technicians and professionals, to the owners of small businesses who help create jobs for Americans.”

Last year 130 members of Congress from both parties also argued to leave H-4 visa rules untouched. The legislators wrote:

“The opportunity for H-4 visa holders to work has made our economy stronger, while providing relief and economic support to thousands of spouses — mostly women — who have resided in the United States for years.”

Thousands of people from across the country who hold H-4 visas joined a Facebook group, SaveH4EAD, to share information and raise awareness for their cause. Of 2,400 members surveyed from the social media group, 94 percent were women and 58 percent had U.S.-born children. Fifty-nine percent had a postgraduate or professional degree, and 96 percent had a bachelor’s degree. Sixty percent said they paid taxes of more than $5,000.

Hiring qualified American workers is a noble pursuit for any business, but the reality is America is made up of more than Americans — and many just want to earn a paycheck and benefits while contributing to their families and communities.

It’s really simple: Many of those who hold H-4 visas are highly educated and a significant number of communities have an immediate need for their talents. Let your elected officials know that revoking H-4 EAD visas would be harmful to the economy and is an unnecessary hurdle to the American Dream.

We should be using the right tools for the job, no matter where they were made.

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