US govt allows work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders

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The settlement was reached by the Department of Homeland Security in a class-action lawsuit, which was filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on behalf of immigrant spouses this summer, reports Asian Lite News

In yet another immigration-friendly move, the Biden administration has agreed to provide automatic work authorisation permits to spouses of H-1B visas holders, a step that would benefit thousands of Indian-American women.

The settlement in this regard was reached by the Department of Homeland Security in a class-action lawsuit, which was filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on behalf of immigrant spouses this summer.

“This (H-4 visa holders) is a group that always met the regulatory test for automatic extension of EADs (employment authorisation documents), but the agency previously prohibited them from that benefit and forced them to wait for reauthorisation. People were suffering. They were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason causing harm to them and US businesses,” Jon Wasden from AILA said.

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The litigation successfully achieved the reversal of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy that prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from the automatic extension of their employment authorisation during the pendency of stand-alone EAD applications.

“Although this is a giant achievement, the parties’ agreement will further result in a massive change in position for the USCIS, which now recognises that L-2 spouses enjoy automatic work authorisation incident to status, meaning these spouses of executive and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorisation prior to working in the United States,” AILA said.

“We are delighted to have reached this agreement, which includes relief for H-4 spouses, through our litigation efforts with Wasden Banias and Steven Brown. It is gratifying that the administration saw that settling the litigation for non-immigrant spouses was something that should be done, and done quickly,” said Jesse Bless, AILA director of federal litigation.

The Obama administration had given work authorisation to certain categories of spouses of H-1B visa holders. So far, more than 90,000 H-4 visa holders, a significant majority of whom are Indian-American women, have received work authorisation.

According to the State Department, Indians with advanced degrees whose immigration applications were approved in 2009 and skilled workers and professionals whose applications were okayed in 2010 are still waiting for their green cards.

Those wait times are only for those whose applications are already approved, and it could run to centuries for those in the immigration queue.

The immigration reform bill faces an uphill battle because Republicans demand that it include stringent restrictions on illegal immigration and the backing of some members of that party would be required in the Senate.

Earlier, legislative action to remove country caps failed in the last Congress because the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the bill had differences that were not reconciled in time and it lapsed.

The Senate in December 2020 and the House in 2019 had passed the separate versions of the bill.

H-1B visas are for professionals and L-1 visas are for those transferred by their companies to the US.

Their spouses had been allowed to work in the US under a regulations introduced by former President Barack Obama, but his successor Donald Trump had tried to ban work authorisation for them.

In its first week in office, the Biden administration killed Trump’s effort and continued to make the spouses, most of them Indian women, eligible to get work permits.

The San Jose Mercury reported last month that the Citizenship and Immigration Service had attributed the work authorisation “delays to ‘Covid-19 restrictions, an increase in filings, current postal service volume and other external factors'”.

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