US allows ‘automatic extension’ of work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders

Debangana Ghosh | | | Updated on: Nov 12, 2021
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Move will benefit thousands of spouses of IT professionals

Following a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on behalf of immigrant spouses this summer, the Biden administration agreed on a settlement to allow automatic extension of work authorisation permits to the spouses of L1 and H-1B visa holders for 180 days.

Most sought-after visa

The H-1B visa is the most sought-after work visa of IT companies. Every year nearly 70 per cent of the total H-1B visas get allocated to Indian IT professionals globally. The spouses of H-1B visa holders get H-4 visas.

With this new immigration-friendly ruling, thousands of spouses of immigrant, specialised professionals will benefit. The settlement was decided by the Department of Homeland Security.

“An L-2 and H-4 visa holder has to resubmit their EAD (employment authorisation documents) extension applications before their existing EAD expires.

“The extension applications take about six to 12 months to be adjudicated. And if the current EAD expires in the interim, they have to stop working and are likely to lose their employment. A group of people affected by such delays filed this lawsuit to get some relief,” Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, told BusinessLine.

“The settlement in the lawsuit provides for automatic extension of EADs for 180 days, provided they have timely applied for EAD extensions. This will greatly benefit thousands of individuals. However, this will not be helpful for those whose extensions are not adjudicated within the 180 days grace period at which time that will have to stop working,” she added. “This (H-4 visa holders) is a group that always met the regulatory test for automatic extension of EADs, 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,” said AILA’s Jon Wasden.

Reverses policy

The litigation reversed 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 standalone EAD applications.

Partial relief

L-2 visa holders, who will be the spouses of L-1 visa holders, will also get partial relief. “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 executives and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorisation prior to working in the United States,” said AILA.

Earlier, the Obama government had allowed work authorisation to certain categories of H-1B visa holders. Till date, over 90,000 H-4 visa holders have received work authorisation, of which, a major chunk are Indian women.

Published on November 13, 2021

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