Now, H-4 Visa Holders can Work in the US | DCR Workforce Blog

Now, H-4 Visa Holders can Work in the US

h4 visaThe wait has finally come to an end for the “H4 Visa – A Curse’ Facebook group. This group uses a woman in a golden cage as its Display Picture. It is dedicated to protesting against “sidelining productive human beings”.

For employers looking for talent and for spouses of H1-B holders living in the USA, there is finally some good news. Effective May 26, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is extending eligibility for employment to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B non-immigrants. This is a result of the executive order on administrative immigration reforms. This benefit has eluded H-4 visa holders, who come to the USA as spouses of H1-B visa holders, for quite some time now. Such employment benefits exist for spouses of other non-immigrant visa holders like E or L visas. But the laws do not allow the spouse of an H-1B non-immigrant worker to work or seek any scholarship to study further.

This move helps to clarify and improve visa programs while helping to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs.  A number of highly skilled people, who can start contributing to the economy immediately, will be added to the available talent pool.  According to estimates offered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the number of individuals eligible for employment authorization under this rule could be as high as 179,600 this year and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.

This new work eligibility for H-4 visa holder spouses is expected to encourage H-1B skilled workers to remain in the United States, and show interest in becoming lawful permanent residents while both contribute to the economy. However, the eligibility comes with certain conditions and limitations.

The rule explicitly excludes H-4 dependent children of such H1-B visa holders. An eligible H-4 visa holder needs to have a valid unexpired visa, and their spouse needs to be a H1-B visa holder and also be:

  • The beneficiary of an approved I-140 immigrant petition, or PERM Labor Certification or an I-140 petition which was filed more than 365 days prior to the expiration of the H1-B visa’s six year validity period.
  • Granted an extension of stay in the US under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, which allows H-1B workers seeking lawful permanent residence to remain in the US beyond the legal six-year limit.

H-4 dependent spouses who fulfill the above criteria could file an Application for Employment Authorization, and pay the required fee to obtain employment authorization or I-766, also known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  For those who do qualify, employment authorization carries no restrictions. The individual can work for any employer in any field, full-time or part-time.

Some Outcomes:

The friendliness of the immigration policies of other countries is luring skilled workers away from the US. This rule may help to reverse that trend. Other benefits of this rule would include:

  • Businesses have increased chances of encouraging highly skilled temporary workers to seek lawful permanent residence.
  • Many H1-B holders have left the country prior to the completion of their assigned period due to the economic stress resulting from living on a single income and the pressure exerted by a highly educated spouse who is forced to remain idle.
  • The economy benefits from the knowledge of these individuals – whether as employees or as entrepreneurs – may provide employment to others.
  • The majority of H-4 spouses are women. Many have indicated that the inability to work was making them undocumented, trapped and at the mercy of their husbands.
  • The average number of years required for these families to become US citizens ranges anywhere from 12 years to 18 years (6 years to qualify for a green card and another 6 to 12 years to get one). This robs a highly educated H-4 visa holder of the most productive years in which to build a meaningful career.

While the rule does not help all H-4 dependents, it is definitely a huge step in the right direction. Share your thoughts with us.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.