H-1B visas allow specialty workers to come to the United States as non-immigrants and work. However, one negative of the visa is that, for a long time, the spouses of H-1B visa holders could not also work while in the United States. As a result, some workers eligible for an H-1B visa would not come to the United States because they did not want to be away from their spouses, and the spouses did not want to disrupt their careers by traveling to the United States. Other spouses traveled to the U.S. but had to wait a decade or more to receive authorization before they could work.
In 2015, the U.S. made things much better for spouses in H-4 status. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allowed spouses in H-4 status to request permission for work authorization once their spouses reached a certain point in their process for permanent residency. Spouses had to submit a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization along with supporting evidence and a fee. According to the Obama Administration, this change would relieve some of the economic stress on families and help their transition into American society.
After DHS adopted the rule in 2015, tens of thousands of spouses of H-1B visa holders have benefited from work authorization. They have been able to contribute to their family’s income and paid additional taxes into the Treasury.
However, President Donald Trump ran on a strict anti-immigration platform centered on the debatable premise that immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers. As a result, it is unsurprising that the Department of Homeland Security is on the verge of rescinding the Obama-era regulation, which will deprive the ability of H-4 spouses to obtain permission to work.
The full contours of the new DHS rule are currently unknown. However, it is sure to reintroduce all of the economic disincentives that kept talented immigrants from coming to the United States to work before 2015. Such a change will also dramatically affect those businesses that currently are employing H-4 spouses in key jobs. Without work authorization, these employers will need to try to find other workers to fill the slots—not an easy proposition in such a tight economy.
As with many aspects of immigration law, the future remains uncertain. For example, experts do not yet know whether the Trump administration will simply stop granting new authorizations or whether they will strip the permits from H-4 spouses who already have them. The latter would be a more dramatic action, but not outside the realm of possibility.
If you are seeking work authorization as an H-1B spouse, or if you currently have authorization, you might be concerned about the future changes. At Kriezelman Burton & Associates, we work with people just like to navigate the ever-changing U.S. immigration system. We can analyze your situation and determine your best options.
If you have questions, please contact us by calling 312-332-2550 or submitting an online contact sheet.
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The KB&A Team