Bride and Prejudice: How the U.S. Immigration Law Discriminates Against Spousal Visa Holders

Sabrina Balgamwalla
Date of Publication: 
February, 2013
Source Organization: 

This article argues that U.S. visa law, rooted in antiquated, 19thcentury notions of spousal relations, has had "devastating consequences for the day-to-day lives of H-4 spouses."  These are the spouses of H-1B visa holders, who are coveted by high tech firms for their technical skills.  Unable to legally work in the U.S., spouses are effectively confined to their homes.  They are unable to obtain a divorce, maintain custody of their children, and escape relationships of domestic violence. The article examines the origins of the spousal visa program in the gendered norms of "coverture," which "establishes a regime that subordinates one human to another."

The situation of H-4 visa holders remains an anomaly in the field of U.S. immigration law, as dependents in other visa categories, such as spouses of intra-company transferees and exchange visitors, are permitted to work.  The author finds this exception to be peculiar, because H-1Bs and their spouses, unlike other non-immigrants, are considered "Americans in waiting," eligible to advance to permanent residence through employer petitions. The author recommends that the plight of these spouses be addressed in new immigration reform legislation. (Abstract courtesy Nicholas Montalto, PhD.)

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Balgamwalla, S. "Bride and Prejudice: How the U.S. Immigration Law Discriminates Against Spousal Visa Holders." (February 28, 2013). Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2014, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: