Why we need to save the H-4 visa rule

  • The Trump Administration has threatened to rescind the H-4 visa rule.
  • The H-4 visa rule extends employment authorization eligibility to a limited subset of spouses of H-1B visa holders who legally reside in the United States and are on the path to obtain a green card.
  • The ripple effects from rescinding the rule could be widespread and damaging to families, companies and the nation's overall competitive edge.
Immigrants arrive in the United States at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia.
James Lawler Duggan | Reuters
Immigrants arrive in the United States at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia.

Like the United States, the tech industry is a collection of people with exceptional skills and backgrounds. They have helped create a plethora of innovative products and services that benefit our day-to-day lives.

If you're looking for an answer on Google, or buying something on eBay, or using a computer powered by Intel, it is because America opened its doors to immigrants. Half of the 87 startup companies valued at more than $1 billion in the United States today were founded by at least one immigrant and each of these companies now employs on average 760 American workers.

Tech and so many other industries have long understood that high-skilled immigrants make us stronger by contributing to our society through hard work and the sharing of new ideas that fuel not just the tech industry but all corners of society. For instance, a 2014 study found that the hiring of one young skilled immigrant worker was associated with the hiring of an additional 3.5 workers over the following 14 years.

However, this critical pipeline of economic growth and innovation could be cut off, threatening to create a harmful ripple effect across our workforce and economy should the Trump Administration move forward with rescinding the H-4 rule. The H-4 visa rule extends employment authorization eligibility to a limited subset of spouses of H-1B visa holders who legally reside in the United States and are on the path to obtain a green card. More than 104,000 such visas have been issued since 2015 when the rule went into effect.

Allowing H-4 spouses to legally work in the United States helps turbocharge innovation and create jobs. Changing course on these important programs would negatively impact the business community, our economy and American workers.

Imagine being told you are welcome to work, but that your wife or husband is not welcome.

Even if the Administration plans to follow through on its threat to end this vital program later this year, Congress should work quickly to cement this policy into law by passing Senator Orrin Hatch's Immigration Innovation Act, which fixes immigration laws for high-skilled workers using a market-driven approach. This bill will bolster the tech industry's commitment to growing the domestic workforce from Silicon Valley to Silicon Prairie.

Giving high-skilled immigrants the peace of mind knowing that they can move their families to the United States, and their spouses can make an honest living and provide for their family not only keeps families together but also bolsters the United States' ability to compete globally, incentivizing innovators and job creators to come here to work instead of other countries.

The H-4 rule provides certainty to employers, too. Without it, employers would face an increased risk that their valued, long-term employees will choose to leave their companies for employment opportunities in other countries that allow these workers and their families to raise their standard of living.

This will not only force businesses to incur added costs and endure the disruptions associated with having to fill these key positions in their companies, but it also creates uncertainty that negatively affects long-term workforce planning.

Individuals looking to obtain this authorization—most whom are women—already legally reside in the United States and are on the path to permanent residency. They are eager to work and support their families, contribute to their communities by paying taxes, and utilize their skills to help grow the economy. The H-4 rule gives them the proper legal avenue to do that.

Failure to maintain the current H-4 rule would put a troubling moral and economic dent in the United States. And it would further underscore our failure to reform the United States' immigration system, causing more uncertainty for families and businesses alike, and creating additional bureaucratic backlogs.

If we are going to keep American open for business and remain competitive, as President Trump uttered at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, then we must also be a country that is open to immigrants.

Commentary by Dean Garfield, the president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.

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