It’s good news week for many accompanying their spouses to America – or it will be in May 2015. Whilst large swathes of President Obama’s attempt at immigration reform are being stymied by Republicans, one small piece of his proposed changes can be achieved without the approval of an intransigent Congress.
Skilled immigrants, those granted H1-B visas and often among the best in their fields, have been leery of accepting job offers in the United States because their wives/husbands, often highly skilled in their own right, have not been able to obtain work visas. H1-B visa holders, whilst on a supposed fast track for the coveted green card (which is in fact pink) are restricted annually to 140,000 with country caps of 7%, irrespective of that country’s size. Think Bhutan versus India. It can therefore take a great number of years for a spouse to be able to work, in which time many give up and return to their native country.
As all accompanying partners know, and those involved in the relocation industry have been trying to tell international corporations for years, if the domestic side of life is riven with stress, the assignment can end in failure. An expensive endeavour both in time and money for the sponsoring agency, and emotional hardship for the family.
Do I hear muttering from some wondering how life as an expatriate spouse can be difficult, particularly in a country like the United States brimming with opportunity?
Speaking as one of those wives, believe me when I say it can be difficult. Having lived in many countries, mostly developing, before arriving on these American shores I thought I had relocation down pat. As far as practicalities I was pretty good. House found, check. Schools sorted, check. Sports signed up, check. Dog procured, check. But what about me?
Living in suburban Houston, the right place for the children at that particular time in their lives, was a cultural desert for someone more used to hustling markets with fruit and vegetables laid out on mats on the ground. Surrounded by well-intentioned neighbours it was nonetheless a lonely time as I adjusted to white faces, manicured lawns and Southern Baptist mores.
My walks in the morning with our rescue dog Miss Meg, part of the promise of a new life in America, were spent wondering what went on behind the closed shutters of suburbia. Did no-one ever let the light in? Never having been a very good cookie-cutter mum I felt as if life was passing me by in a slow-moving blur of samedom. Where were the different faces, the different languages? Where was life?
Houston, a mere 29 miles south of where we had chosen to live, seemed an ocean away. Lives revolved around children and a trip to the city teeming with diversity and culture, so near and yet so far, was an occasional outing jammed between parental duties and commitments.
Three years into that life, my work visa arrived. I am not a highly skilled woman. I don’t have a PhD in nuclear physics. I can’t save the world. But many of us can be a valuable resource and not just an appendage attached to a visa holder.
So yes, I am delighted work visa restrictions are being lifted for accompanying spouses.