The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will allow some spouses of people in the United States on work visas to hold jobs.
The change comes for the spouses of people with H-1B visas, which are given only to those working in particular highly-skilled fields, such as engineering or computer science. The spouses were previously allowed to come to the United States, but not to work. The measure is part of a reform package announced in 2012.
"The proposals announced today will encourage highly skilled, specially trained individuals to remain in the United States and continue to support U.S. businesses and the growth of the U.S. economy," said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. "A concurrent goal is for the United States to maintain competitiveness with other countries that attract skilled foreign workers and offer employment authorization for spouses of skilled workers. American businesses continue to need skilled nonimmigrant and immigrant workers."
Tech companies have been calling for more H-1B visas, and tech leaders including Mark Zuckerberg founded fwd.us, a group promoting comprehensive immigration reform. Critics have said they believe expanding the H-1B visa program would allow lower-paid foreign workers to take American jobs.
The changes announced Tuesday would also update regulations to broaden out the number of authorized work days for certain visa holders while their request for a visa extension is pending.
Immigration reform is currently stalled in the House, and President Obama has been pushing Republicans to get it passed. In March he ordered a review of deportation policies to ensure that they are more humane. But immigrant advocates are demanding that Obama do much more, including using his executive authority to stem deportations. According to a faith leader who attended a White House meeting last month, President Obama said he would not be taking executive action on immigration.