Washington, DC – 2015 brings excellent news for spouses of H1-B visa holders as US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez announced today (February 24) that, “effective May 26, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. DHS amended the regulations to allow these H-4 dependent spouses to accept employment in the United States.”
“Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense,” Rodríguez said. “It helps US businesses keep their highly skilled workers by increasing the chances these workers will choose to stay in this country during the transition from temporary workers to permanent residents. It also provides more economic stability and better quality of life for the affected families.”
In a statement, the USCIS noted, “Under the rule, eligible H-4 dependent spouses must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with supporting evidence and the required $380 fee in order to obtain employment authorization and receive a Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD). USCIS will begin accepting applications on May 26, 2015. Once USCIS approves the Form I-765 and the H-4 dependent spouse receives an EAD, he or she may begin working in the United States.”
USCIS cautioned potentially eligible persons to note that this rule is not effective until May 26, 2015. “Individuals should not submit an application to USCIS before the effective date, and should avoid anyone who offers to assist in submitting an application to USCIS before the effective date,” the statement said.
The eligibility criteria as described in the statement include certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who:
• Are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
• Have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. The Act permits H-1B nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.
According to an estimate from the USCIS, the number of individuals eligible to apply for employment authorization under this rule could be as high as 179,600 in the first year and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.
In a fact sheet to journalists, the White House noted in December 2014, “Spouses of H-1Bs will also be able to receive work authorization if the H-1B holder is on the pathway to obtain a green card.”
Also, in response to a question (Please check the link at the bottom) raised by IAT in December last year at the daily State Department press briefing, a State Department official reiterated, “On May 12, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to amend its regulations by extending the availability of employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B nonimmigrants who have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment.”
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security hoped, “this change will reduce the economic burdens and personal stresses H-1B nonimmigrants and their families may experience during the transition from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident status and facilitate their integration into American society.”
Highlighting the role played by the H-1B visa holders, the DHS noted, “The change should also support the US economy because the contributions H-1B nonimmigrants make to entrepreneurship and science help promote economic growth and job creation. The rule also will bring US immigration policies more in line with those laws of other countries that compete to attract similar highly skilled workers.”
The announcement comes as the US lawmakers in Congress remain embroiled in a debate over funding for the DHS, which runs out at the end of the week.
Welcoming the announcement as a first step in the right direction, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) called on USCIS to allow employment authorization for all H-4 visa holders, arguing, “as H-1B workers and their families are most successful when H-4 visa holders have the ability to contribute to their household income and our economy, and pursue their goals.”
You can listen to the questions raised at the State Department daily briefing on this matter at 17:00 minutes
Tejinder Singh was the Founder and Editor of India America Today, and is the inspiration for Global Strat View.