The Guardian: “Silicon Valley's reluctant housewives: immigration law bars women from work”

by Joseph McKeown


For many people landing a job at a tech company in Silicon Valley is a dream come true. Years of hard work, talent, and education have finally paid off and led to coveted positions at prestigious companies (with sweet perks). But not everyone making the move to the US benefits. The Guardian takes a look at H-4 spouses–that is, the spouses of H-1B visa holders–and in particular, the wives of Silicon Valley workers who “are integral to the continued success of the Valley’s multibillion-dollar computing industry – but also entirely invisible to it.” Many of these H-4 holders are the spouses of engineers from around the world who work at companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook.

The majority of H-4 spouses are not authorized to work in the US (except those whose spouses have reached a certain step of their Green Card application). Therefore, many H-4 spouses give up careers in their home country to follow their spouses who have been offered dream jobs and salaries too good to refuse in the US. One new H-4 arrival tells The Guardian: “Before, I was very career-focused…my career was my identity. Coming here has forced me to ask questions: who am I? What am I good at? What are my hobbies?”

This issue is of particular importance to Indian nationals in the US, who make up 80% of the 125,000 H-4 dependent visas. Sandhya Ravindran, a thirty-eight-year-old Indian woman who has lived in the Bay Area since 2007, says “99%” of her social network comprises other Indian H-4 wives. “Honestly? If I had known what life on an H4 would be like, I would not have come,” she says in The Guardian.

While last year the US government extended employment eligibility to certain H-4 visa holders of spouses who are seeking permanent resident status, many are still unable to work. Heather Zachernuk, a thirty-three-year New Zealander whose husband works for Apple, hasn’t been able to work since she arrived in Silicon Valley. “I feel guilt. So much guilt – for having this lifestyle...for resenting my situation even while it’s also a luxury.” The Guardian concludes: “Set against millions of vulnerable migrants, H4 visa holders are lucky. They are safe, and they are wealthy. But their experiences highlight a community of women pushed to the edges of Silicon Valley by an immigration system focused only on meeting corporations’ needs.”