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The Trump administration is weighing what to do about the spouses of high-skilled immigrants

The White House signaled in a court filing that it’s reviewing an Obama-era visa program.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions 
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The Trump administration’s next immigration target could be a program that allows the spouses of some high-skilled engineers to work in the United States.

Under former President Barack Obama, the government tried to help tech companies and other firms who employed H-1B visa holders by allowing their spouses to seek jobs here. The policy specifically focused on the families of H-1B workers who pursue green cards to become permanent U.S. residents.

Under Trump, however, the government has sought to rethink federal immigration programs. And in court documents quietly filed this week, the Trump administration indicated that it is reconsidering spouses’ rights, too.

Without much fanfare, the Justice Department’s lawyers asked a federal appeals court on Monday to pause consideration of a case challenging the Obama-era policy’s legality. The DOJ sought 180 days so the administration can decide “whether to revise” its rules.

The move drew sharp criticism from immigration reform advocacy groups, including the Mark Zuckerberg-backed, which feared that the Trump administration had essentially paved the way to abandon the aid Obama extended to spouses.

“We strongly feel they should keep this regulation in place, and they should not deny a quarter million people” the ability to work, said Todd Schulte, the president of, in an interview Tuesday.

The DOJ’s court move, however, raised additional alarm in light of previous comments made by Jeff Sessions, now the country’s attorney general. While serving in the U.S. Senate, the Republican lawmaker had been especially critical of the H-1B program. And Sessions sharply rebuked the Obama administration in 2015 after it issued its rules to permit the spouses of some H-1B holders to seek employment.

Fearing that the DOJ might ultimately choose not to defend the case, an immigration rights organization called Immigration Action sought to intervene “on behalf of thousands of its members who currently possess employment authorization as spouses of H-1B visa holders,” it said in a statement in March.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration promised greater scrutiny of the H-1B program. It pledged more targeted “site checks” to ensure that the program has been administered properly, along with greater scrutiny for computer programmers who apply for those visas. Both measures are viewed as early attempts to crack down on outsourcing firms like Infosys — and not on tech giants like Google, which told employees late Monday that they likely would not be affected.

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