Spouses of Skilled Visa Holders Look Forward to Getting Their Own Jobs

Shalini Sharma at her home in Irvine, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Sharma worked as an architect in Mumbai, India, but cannot work in the United States because of her visa status, which is contingent upon her husband's. Sharma may be affected by the executive order issued by President Obama that could qualify spouses of H-1B visa holders to work. (Susanica Tam/ KPCC)

Shalini Sharma loves spending time at home with her two young sons, make no mistake. She loves being able to cheer on her youngest as he learns to ride a scooter, and helping her eldest with his homework.

But she really misses her work.

"I am an architect," said Sharma, who arrived in the U.S. almost six years ago. "I was a professional architect in India, and I was an interior designer. I had my own practice."

Sharma isn't your typical stay-at-home mom who traded career for kids. She's in the United States on what’s called an H-4 visa, granted to dependents of work visa holders. These are typically high-skilled workers on H-1B visas, more than two-thirds of whom are men.

These dependent spouses, many of them from South Asia, aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. But in many cases, they are as well-educated and skilled as their partners.


At first, Sharma stayed home by choice.

"I was all fine with not working, because I wanted to give some time to my kids and stay with them and just be with my family, the four of us together," she said.

That was almost six years ago, when she first arrived in the U.S. with her husband, Vishal, on his work visa. But their lives have changed, and she's eager to get back to the workplace.

In the coming year, she might: Sharma is one of an estimated 100,000 spouses of high-skilled work visa holders who could soon be allowed to work as part of President Obama's new immigration plan.

Read the full piece via KPCC