On the main street of downtown Frisco, Texas, the storefront space I have rented since September has yet to open for business. Along with my husband, Chandan Gaddam, I have purchased furniture and supplies for my art studio, and I’ve interviewed five U.S. citizens whom I’d like to hire. All together, Chandan and I have sunk $20,000 into the business. But it remains shuttered — and in fact may never open.
The problem: The Trump administration says it plans to revoke the visa that permits me to run a business.
I came to Texas from India in May 2014 to join Chandan, an information technology expert who is also from India. Because Chandan has specialized skills, his employer hired him using a high-skill visa called the H-1B.
In India, I had a successful career providing software-development solutions to small businesses. But when I first arrived in Texas, U.S. law forbid me from earning any sort of income. My H-4 visa, which is issued to the spouses of H-1B visa holders, did not allow me to work, so I was stranded in our suburban home.
We had one car, which my husband drove to work each day, and without a second salary, we couldn’t afford a second one. To relieve the tedium, I started painting, but it was just a hobby; immigration law even forbade me from selling my work at craft fairs or art shows. I felt like I was losing my identity.
Fortunately, in May 2015 the Citizenship and Immigration Services implemented a work authorization for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, the H-4 EAD. I obtained my EAD in 2016, and last year I created an Etsy business to sell my artwork. It became popular, with many of my paintings selling. I felt my life come back to me, and my confidence returned.
Friends and neighbors started asking for art lessons for themselves and their children. Many others wanted to learn how to sell their artwork online, too. I was happy for the chance to share my knowledge, and increase my neighbors’ earning potential. I offered them friendly advice but didn’t charge any fees.
Last June, I decided to open an art studio in downtown Frisco. Calculating that the business would take in $80,000 to $90,000 a year, we began working to get the studio up and running. We signed a lease, invested thousands in the space, and interviewed prospective employees.
Then our world turned upside down. Last year, the Trump administration has stated that it plans to revoke the H-4 EAD, which enables me and more than 90,000 other H-1B spouses, the vast majority of whom are women, to earn income. Then in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reopened a legal challenge to the H-4 EAD.
Now I’m stuck in limbo, paying $2,800 a month in rent on the unused commercial space, unable to extend any job offers. How can we hire people if we can’t even promise that the business will be open in a few months?
Immigrants are natural entrepreneurs
Many other H-4 EAD holders are in a similar predicament. Denying us the opportunity to work and create businesses is a huge mistake. When it comes to entrepreneurship, foreign-born residents punch above their weight class, says the research and advocacy organization New American Economy. Immigrants are more than 20 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs, according to 2014 numbers, despite representing about 13 percent of the population. In Texas that year, immigrants were less than 17 percent of the population but nearly 29 percent of self-employed workers.
In addition, a New American Economy analysis of the 2018 Fortune 500 list found that 44 percent of companies included on the list had at least one founder who was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.
It makes no sense that government leaders would want to prevent entrepreneurs like me from creating jobs and bringing new business to our communities.
For now, I’m holding out hope that our leaders in Washington will see reason and allow the H-4 EAD to continue. Acting otherwise will do nothing to help this country. In my case alone, removing the H-4 EAD will prevent five Americans from getting work and reduce the amount of money my family is paying into local, state and national tax coffers. Meanwhile, my store sits empty, and our future and that of prospective employees remain on hold.