SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. technology trade groups on Thursday urged the Trump administration to retain an Obama-era rule that allows certain spouses of highly skilled guest workers to also work legally in the United States.
The call was made in a letter published on the website of the Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google, Microsoft Corp . Ten other national business groups also signed the letter.
The Department of Homeland Security indicated in a regulatory notice in December that it would at least partially undo the 2015 Obama administration decision granting work authorization to spouses of workers on H1b visas, which are used widely in the tech industry.
In fiscal 2016, about 42,000 spouses, who entered the country on H-4 visas, were granted work authorization. The total exceeded 36,000 in the first three quarters of fiscal 2017, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a component of DHS.
If the work authorization is repealed, H1b visa holders may move to countries where their spouses can legally work, said David Leopold, a partner at Ulmer & Berne LLP who specializes in immigration. "It's a disincentive to stay here."
The DHS notice did not give specifics, but said the agency was reviewing the final rule in light of the April 2017 "Buy American and Hire American" executive order by President Donald Trump.
In their letter, the groups urged the Trump administration to keep the rule in place, "not just to attract and retain talent, but to promote immigration to the United States on the basis of one's skills and merit."
It noted that competitors, including Canada and Australia, allow accompanying spouses to work.
Changes to the spousal work program could limit "our access as a nation to the most talented people who we need to help drive our economy," said Dean Garfield, chief executive of the Information Technology Industry Council, in a telephone interview.
Business groups that signed the letter include Compete America, CompTIA, the Council for Global Immigration, FWD.us, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Society for Human Resource Management, TechNet and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
No decision about the rule will be final until the rulemaking process has been completed, said Joanne F. Talbot, a spokeswoman for USCIS, in an email.
"USCIS is focused on ensuring the integrity of the immigration system and protecting the interests of U.S. workers, and is committed to reforming employment based immigration programs so they benefit the American people to the greatest extent possible," Talbot said. (Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Richard Chang)