This post is adapted from an answer I wrote on Quora, in response to a question from a 35 year old woman, living in the US on H-4 visa (dependent to H-1B visa), as dependent to her husband, working on H-1B visa.
The inability of H-1B spouses to work, is a well known facet of policy in US immigration.
While I understand that this is not ideal for many H-1B dependents, stunting their earning potential and growth, there’s really not much to be said about it.
People that come to the US on H-4 are typically fully aware of this constraint and choose to come, despite it.
Perhaps because they don’t fully internalize just what it means to be home all day, after having held jobs and had incomes, or because of unrealistic expectations about life in the US.
The lady whose question I responded to states that her husband wouldn't "allow" her to move back to India, to pursue a career.
This is common in the Indian and larger Asian community, where the husband, culturally viewed as the breadwinner, has a job they are comfortable with and brings income that is adequate to sustain the family.
Therefore, culturally, the wife's professional aspirations, absent an actual financial necessity, become "optional".
Seeing as how the natural cultural role of a wife, is to handle domestic responsibilities, why should a woman want to work, when there is no compelling need to do so?
Today's Indian women are at the threshold of social change, where they are starting to assert their individuality, their desire for financial freedom and equality in their marriages. They are making it their focus to work to build the lives they envision and to define what a successful life means, for them...beyond just being the silent scaffold upon which the success stories of their husbands and children, stand tall and proud.
And in this new foray of self-determination, the Indian women that follow their husbands, on dependent status to the United States, are lagging behind.
And while I sympathize with the fact that not being able to work can translate to a very distressing reality, their current position is, only in part, the result of policy.
Given that the policy itself isn’t likely to change, let’s focus on what can change.
I want to speak to these women, directly, as a member of the same tribe, who believes in the new chapter that we are forging for ourselves.
Any individual that is qualified to and desires a professional life, ought to be able to build a career, in the land of opportunity, right?
So here are some helpful points to woman on H-1 that find themselves lost, un-understood and unsupported, in the quest for a career.
Is pursuing higher education, an option for you?
Once you transition to F-1 student visa, your immigration is de-coupled from your husband’s and you are free to work through internships related to your degree, during the course of your study for a period not exceeding 365 days.
Towards the completion of your degree, you become eligible for work authorization as well, through OPT and STEM Extension (if you are eligible).
While this is a relatively straightforward option, it does involve investing some serious financial resources towards education.
A two year Master's Degree can cost anywhere between $30,000- 50,000 for tuition alone and is therefore a prohibitively expensive option for some women and families.
If higher education is unaffordable, is he likely to submit a petition for Permanent Residency soon?
After the form “I-140- Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker” is approved, the dependent spouse of H-1B workers, receives work authorization in the US, under current immigration policy, for period of validity of the H-1B holder’s visa.
Now, it is important to note that this eligibility for H-4 work authorization is subject to being revoked, as it was not a provision brought in by law, but by executive order under the Obama administration.
H-4 work authorization is very much in danger of being shot down by the current administration, which is something that anyone considering this option should be well aware of.
Is your husband open to immigrating to countries where the dependent spouse is permitted to work?
Many immigrants to the US, seem inexplicably closed to the idea of immigrating elsewhere, likely because the primary, working spouse- usually the husband, is comfortable and places the professional ambitions of the wife on the back burner.
Look into the immigration policies of Canada, Australia, UK, Singapore and other countries.
See what prospects are a possibility outside the US.
For the average Indian-born H-1B worker, a Green Card in the US, has become all but a distant dream thanks to backlogs and given this reality, it is quite a strong case to make, in favor of leaving the US.
There’s no easy way to say this-
If you want a career, you are going to have to fight for it.
What was the understanding between you and your husband, when you moved to the US?
Were your work goals ever discussed?
Did you communicate your desire to pursue a career?
If it wasn’t, then you are going to have to take ownership of the fact that you did not prioritize your career and did not make it clear that a professional life was important to you.
Therefore, it is now unfair to completely switch gears and unilaterally blame your husband for his resistance.
Speak to him about how you feel about your unemployment, your goals, ambitions and the life you see for yourself, in a calm, informed and authoritative fashion.
You are, after all, entitled to envision the life you desire, through your efforts and as a spouse, he should feel invested in what you want from your life as well.
In all honesty, the immigration policy in the US regarding H-4, combined with your husband’s seeming lack of interest in your goals, is not ideal.
Educating yourself about immigration, balancing your interests with your husband’s, making your goals a topic of regular, unrelenting discussion andcoming up with concrete options and plans, complete with details, to further your career, is your responsibility to yourself.
If it becomes obvious to you, during your discussions, that your career and ambitions are just simply not important to your husband, then confronting the fact that your goals might be misaligned, is also something you will need to consider.
In any case, you are supposed to be an equal in marriage.
The idea that a husband should “allow” a wife something as fundamental as a career, is a distasteful view of marriage.
I’ve known many, many women on H-4 in the US, that have faced the same struggle.
And there is a common thread that connects those who fought the odds and succeeded in making their careers happen.
They did the work, to come up with concrete, actionable solutions to address their concerns.
They advocated for themselves, their ambitions and their financial independence, sometimes even facing resistance from their families or spouses.
The ones that weren’t successful, continually placed their own ambitions behind kids, domestic responsibility, opinions of the family, the convenience of their husband and caved before the enormity of the challenge.
They made weak protests, often in the form of nagging complaints and resentful barbs, but had put in very little actual thought, research and action, behind what they claimed to want for themselves.
Remember, if your career isn’t important enough to you, to work and fight for it…
…don’t be surprised when others don’t give it any importance, either.
A passive, indecisive approach is simply not going to work here.