Our study investigated the complications experienced by Indian expatriates’ (on H-1B) due to the work restriction (more specifically, visa related) issues faced by the spouses of these expatriates. Pooja B. Vijayakumar and Dr. Christopher J.L. Cunningham present their research.
Under the current American presidential administration, USCIS is planning to reverse the 2015 final rule that granted eligibility and cancel the work permit of dependent spouses. Researchers Pooja B. Vijayakumar (Doctoral student, Kemmy Business School, Limerick, Ireland) and Dr. Christopher J. L. Cunningham (I-O Psychology Graduate Program Coordinator, UC Foundation Professor, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA) found that such spousal work restrictions negatively affect expatriate’s work role and, in turn overall life satisfaction. This statistically supported finding was corroborated by the qualitative responses participants provided to an open-ended portion to the research in which participants were asked to explain the complications in their nonwork/personal life due to visa restrictions. From these qualitative data, these researchers identified six challenges faced by spouses of expatriates: financial issues, frustration, loss of respect/low confidence, boredom, social isolation and domestic tension (as shown in the following table).
Some participants mentioned that their wives had to sit idle at home due to visa restrictions, which resulted in boredom:
“Dependent Visa does not allow my spouse to work whereas she used to work in India. Hence sitting idle does create complications;” “Keeping spouse busy or occupied is a challenge;” “Have to spend more time with the spouse to make her feel comfortable in USA;” “Looking for other opportunities so that my wife can accomplish something without sitting idle, so there is lot of planning and patience that is essential to keep her happy;” “Wife’s bored, doesn’t have friends here and feels down after a while.”
There were also participants who reported that their wives faced social isolation due to work restrictions. When wives of expatriates are given the opportunity to work, it helps them to culturally adapt to new place by creating social networks and interacting with local people:
“My wife used to work in India but due to her status in USA, she was not able to work and was restricted to home making only, which resulted in some mental dissatisfaction and other issues;” “Work opportunities and socializing exposure is important for spouse as well. It would be difficult for them to understand the outside environment;” “My wife is on dependent visa and is on ‘house arrest’ for last 5 years which makes it difficult for her to get exposed to ‘American’ environment, work culture, social life & social interactions. For a person who was working in India and came to U.S. thinking big, her ‘American Dream’ has been anything but a disappointment.”
Many participants also mentioned feeling burdened by having to be the single-earner for their household as an expatriate which led to financial issues:
“The place where I live is very expensive, it would be good if both of us work for financial stability;” “Just the financial concerns…had she been working, it would be easier for me to pay rent;” “Spouse has to study to get work permit, this would be challenging for families with kids.”
Participants also mentioned that their spouses felt frustrated due to not being able to further their careers:
“Spouse is feeling restless to do something;” “Spouse cannot work on dependent visa. Very unfair to her, so going back to India;” “My wife was working in India for 7/8 years and always enjoyed her work. It’s really frustrating to be an MBA and forced to be a housewife;” “My wife is frustrated that she is unable to further her career”
There were many participants who reported that they faced domestic tension due to their wives’ career restrictions:
“Views mismatch, fights, disturbances, financial issues, spouse feels complex in mixing with working spouses of friends, life style changes;” “We went through several periods of domestic tensions due to unhappiness to my wife. Also, the expense related to getting through graduate school added to the tensions”
Some participants also noted that their wives suffered from loss of respect and low confidence levels:
“My wife feels like she doesn’t get due respect among American neighbors who don’t understand the visa limitations for work;” “The dependent visa situation and significant delay we had in getting the green card almost destroyed my professional wife’s confidence to such an extent its now impossible to imagine a job leave alone a career”
Vijayakumar and Cunningham are concerned that policy changes like the one being considered for America are often made in the absence of complete information that might help policy makers better understand the true breadth of likely consequences.
The data for the present study were collected in the year 2014, a time when dependent spouse of H-1B expatriates were similarly not allowed to work (i.e., before the previous presidential administration made changes to this policy that are now in jeopardy of reversal).
These researchers anticipate the situation that may develop in coming months will be more critical and difficult for expatriate families than what was experienced in 2014, as many of these individuals who were temporarily benefited by the previous presidential administration’s immigration policies may have, in this time, bought a home or started their own businesses.
These major life events may soon have to be reversed or undone in some way if spousal work permits are cancelled. It is also important to note that the unpredictability of these impending changes to American visa restrictions will not only cause financial strain, but is already also causing psychological burden on families, particularly the spouses of expatriates in these families.
Furthermore, cancelling work permits for spouses could negatively affect business operations for major IT companies. These researchers hope that sharing this research can encourage policy makers to more fully consider the implications of visa-related policy changes on expatriates’ spouses, families, employing organizations, and broader communities.
Pooja B. Vijayakumar is currently a doctoral student pursuing Ph.D. in Management with Dean’s Scholarship at Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick in Ireland. She received her M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA and won the Provost Student Research award, Professional Development award and Graduate Student Association travel award to conduct the research study on Indian expatriates working in the US IT industry. Her current research interests include cross-cultural management, expatriation and global leadership. She also earned her M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Wichita State University, USA and has held various engineering positions in IT companies like Mindtree, Cisco Systems and Dell SecureWorks.
Christopher J. L. Cunningham, PhD is a UC Foundation Professor and graduate faculty member in the Department of Psychology at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he is also the Industrial and Organizational Psychology Graduate Program Coordinator. Outside of UTC, Chris is the Chief Science Officer for Logi-Serve (a provider of competency-based assessments for predicting and developing customer service and sales excellence). He is also the president-elect for the Society for Occupational Health Psychology. His current research addresses multiple occupational health-related topics, including: stress and recovery processes and practices; the influence of individual differences in cognitions and behaviors, as well as environmental factors on health- and wellbeing-related outcomes; and topics related to managing multiple work and nonwork roles. Chris earned his B.A. in psychology from Lehigh University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Bowling Green State University.