In any given year, the U.S. grants approximately 85,000 H1B visas, given to foreign workers with special skills or highly specialized knowledge. For a long time, their spouses were denied permission to work in the U.S., but in 2014, employment authorization documents (EAD) were granted to H4 visa holders, which is the visa given to the spouses of H1B holders. Now, in 2019, the current administration has published a notice of intent to roll back the program granting the EADs, arguing that too much competition with U.S. workers is created.
The Obama administration granted the right to seek an EAD to H4 holders in 2014, but in 2015, a group called SaveJobs, comprised of ‘displaced’ U.S. tech workers, sued the administration, alleging that it had overstepped its bounds and that granting EADs to this group of nonimmigrants would make it harder for U.S. citizens to find work in technology. The group lost, appealed, and the case was continued multiple times, allegedly while the rule was being rewritten and refined.
Now, in 2019, a draft rule has been authored, rendering the lawsuit moot, as the proposed rule changes would eliminate the work permits (the issue that SaveJobs initially brought suit over). However, critics point out that only those who are already on the path to lawful permanent resident (green card holder) status are eligible for the EADs, and it would be economically inadvisable to “pull the rug out” from under families and people who are contributing to the economy.
While as of this writing, EADs are still being granted, a formal proposal to end the program was drawn up by U.S. Customs & Immigration Services (USCIS) and sent to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), which produces the President’s Budget every fiscal year. If one looks at statistics, one can see that the majority - approximately 93 percent - of H-4 visa holders who have applied for work permits since they have become available are women, and if the program to allow EADs to these people is discontinued, critics of the current administration argue that it may equal de facto gender discrimination.
It also remains to be seen whether revocation of the rule allowing EADs would mean that any H-4 holder with an EAD would immediately be unable to work, or whether they would be permitted to work until the expiration date on the document. The former approach, rather than the latter, could cause serious issues for H1B families, especially in areas like Silicon Valley where many H1B holders settle into tech jobs, but rents are very high. Employers would also potentially either lose workers or have to make more accommodations for them, which many would be reluctant to do.
This rule, should it pass, may change the lives of many people in this country. In the meantime, it is a good idea to consult an immigration attorney to determine what steps you and your family should take to protect yourselves and your way of life. The skilled Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices, LLC can try to answer any questions and help you work out a plan for going forward. Contact us at 630-932-9100 for a free consultation today.
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