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Beware of the H-4

Previously it was a tale seldom heard of. But today, in the United States, reports of domestic abuse among young, well-educated, Indian women by their H-1B holding husbands have become fairly common, necessitating the need for all prospective ‘H-4 wives’, as they have come to be known, to be aware of the vulnerabilities of the H-4 visa.

In India, bachelors with H-1B visas are the more preferred choice among brides-to-be and their families when compared to Green Card holders, given that the bride can immediately join her husband in the US with an H-4 visa, rather than wait for 2-3 years for her Green Card. Little do the girl and her family know that the cycle of abuse can begin soon after the wedding. In some cases, husbands have refused to file for their wife’s H-4 visa until they have paid a certain amount of dowry. Women comply with the demands out of societal pressure.

Limitations of the H-4 visa keep women at a disadvantage. Since an H-4 visa does not give an individual authorization to work, these women are dependant on their husbands for their financial needs. Their husbands, who are well educated engineers, doctors and scientists, as are all H-1B holders, may use this dependency to control their wives. Husbands may verbally, physically, sexually or emotionally harass their wives into acting according to their wishes in exchange for an increase in the wife’s allowance. Wives may also be subjected to abuse by her in- laws.

H-4 wives are also dependant on their husbands for the renewal and maintenance of their status. This leads to a form of immigration abuse where in husbands threaten not to file their wife’s important immigration papers leaving them undocumented which in turn could lead to their deportation.

Even for a woman to convert her status she needs her husband’s assistance in order to prove that his H-1B is valid and he is employed. It is also possible that while processing a Green Card, a husband might mislead his wife by saying that he has filed for her permanent residency card and women hoping for a green card will continue the relationship.

Women on H-4 visas also do not have access to immigration lawyers because of their lack of finances and, more importantly, because the lawyer represents only her husband and his employer. She never comes into contact with the lawyer.

Another disadvantage of the H-4 visa is that it does not allow its holders to have a Social Security Number (SSN). Without an SSN, an H-4 holder cannot get a separate bank account or credit card. Some states even require a SSN number in order to get a drivers license. All these drawbacks keep an H4 wife extremely dependant on her husband and make it harder for her to escape from the abuse.

In a foreign country, without money, mobility, or even someone to talk to in certain cases, these women become isolated in their torment. Adding to this, battered H-4 wives can find only limited consolation in relief options.

Unlike in the case of an ill-treated woman married to a US citizen or green card holder who can self petition for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an H4 wife has no such alternative.

She can look for an H-1B sponsor and get employed provided she has the necessary training and education. A student visa can also be considered but considering universities are expensive and only citizens and permanent residents are eligible for grants and loans it seems an unlikely alternative.

However she can consider the U visa which is “designed for non citizen crime victims who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity and who agree to cooperate with government officials investigating or prosecuting this criminal activity.” But victims are reluctant to take this approach.

In response to the growing rates of domestic violence among South Asian communities, several organizations have been set up to provide counseling, legal guidance, mental health referrals, shelter resources, translation assistance and several other services to battered women. In the past 15 years, some 30 organizations aimed at helping victims have sprung up. Still, the onus rests on these young, well-educated women to realize that they do not have to tolerate such abuse and take the first step to seek help.

-Melanie Lewis

We would like to know your views and opinions. If you have experienced such abuse and would like free legal advice or would like to share your experience, write to us at:feedback@assureconsulting.com

For a list of South Asian anti-domestic violence organizations in the U.S. click here.

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