Employment Law Report

Employment Authorization Document for H4 Dependent Spouses

By Barbara W. Menefee

Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security logo.At long last, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it will begin accepting applications for employment authorization documents for the dependent spouses of H1B visa holders (“H4”) under certain circumstances. This news is welcome for the thousands of intending immigrants who are in long lines awaiting a visa to become available so that they can file applications for permanent residence in the United States. For instance, if a person from India begins the employment-based permanent residence process today, he or she can expect to wait at least 10 years before they are eligible to file an application for permanent residence in the United States. For most spouses of these applicants, that has meant ten years without the authorization to work in the United States.

The announcement specifically applies to H4s whose spouses have approved I-140 Immigrant Petitions on their behalf, or whose spouses otherwise qualify for an extension of their H1B status beyond the typical six years. This provision will most commonly apply to a foreign national on an H1B visa who has started the permanent residence process, but is stuck in limbo due to visa backlogs as described above. His or her spouse can now work in the United States, when previously he or she could not – a common sense solution that is long overdue and very welcome.

The USCIS will begin accepting these application on May 26, 2015. I would expect that this first wave of applications will not be processed quickly, due to the expected volume of applications. The USCIS estimates as many as 180,000 individuals are eligible for this benefit. I recommend that an eligible individual file the application as soon as it is permissible and then be patient.

Please contact any member of our immigration team to determine if you or your spouse are eligible for this new benefit.