U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a Final Rule on February 24, 2015 that will allow some spouses of H-1B workers who hold H-4 visas to obtain work authorization in the United States for the first time. USCIS estimates this may benefit as many as 180,000 spouses in the first year and an average of 55,000 annually thereafter.
USCIS Director León Rodríguez stated that this initiative will help U.S. 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.” Other benefits include greater economic stability and better quality of life for those affected, he added.
The transition Rodríguez described can take more than 10 years for some H-1B workers because of immigrant visa backlogs. The long waits during which spouses are unable to work cause many to leave the U.S. for Canada or other countries that are friendlier to highly skilled immigrants.
The group of H-4 spouses eligible for work authorization under this Final Rule is limited to spouses of H-1B non-immigrants who are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or who have been granted seventh year H-1B extensions under Sections 106(a) or (b) of AC21. The program is not available to other H-1B families.
In order to benefit from the work authorization, these spouses will need to file an Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD), prove their relationship to the H-1B spouse and the spouse’s immigration status, and pay a filing fee of $380. Applications will not be accepted by USCIS until May 26, 2015; applications made now will be rejected. Note that average processing time for an EAD application is 90 days, so the first spouses eligible to work under this new rule will not be able to report to their new employers until late summer 2015.