The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a final rule that will affect employees who are working in the U.S. on an H-4 Visa. The new rule extends employment eligibility to the H-4 non-immigrant spouses of H-1B workers who are not subject to the six year limitation on stay in “H status.”
The H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, which are those that require theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field like math, biotechnology, engineering, chemistry, architecture, physical sciences, law, education, and so on. As a minimum, applicants have to have a bachelor’s degree.
Normally, H-1 workers can stay in the United States for six years and work for the employer that petitioned for the worker’s visa. To promote family unity, the spouse and minor children of H-1 workers are admitted as H-4 nonimmigrants. Before the new rule, these family members were not permitted to work. USCIS has also lifted the six year limit stay rule, so H-1B workers who are the beneficiaries of an approved immigrant petition (usually filed by their employer) and their H-4 family members may remain in the United States as non-immigrants until such time as their applications for permanent residence are adjudicated.
Under current law, 140,000 employment based immigrants are admitted to the United States each year. Because the number of potential employment based immigrants (both workers and family members) far exceeds the supply of visas, those looking to immigrate as employment based immigrants sometimes wait years before they receive their green card. This new rule acknowledges the H-4 spouse’s status as a potential immigrant and permits the spouse to receive open market employment authorization while they wait in the line to obtain lawful permanent residence.
USCIS’s new rule will go into effect on May 26, 2015. From that time on, USCIS will accept applications for H-4 employment authorization cards.