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H-4 spouses and work authorization

Sometimes, changes occur in what options are available for a holder of a U.S. visa. Such a change occurred last year when it comes to H-4 visas.

This is the visa for dependents of holders of H-1B visas. Prior to last year, spouses that held H-4 visas were ineligible to apply for work authorization. However, last year, new regulations were issued by the federal government which changed this for certain H-4 spouses. These regulations allow H-4 holders whose H-1B spouse has begun the process of pursuing employment-related permanent residency to apply for work authorization.

According to government estimates, in the first year, nearly 180,000 H-4 spouses would have eligibility for this work authorization route. However, the number of people who have ended up applying under these new regulations has been considerably lower. So far, only 66,571 applications have been submitted.

So, it appears that only a little over a third of the H-4 spouses that have access to the new work authorization option have pursued this option.

Why have so many H-4 spouses not taken this new route?

Well, many things can lead to a person not taking an immigration law option available to them. One is a simple lack of interest in the option. Another is a view that other options may be better. In the case of H-4 spouses, some might decide to try a different path to work authorization, like seeking a different visa type.

Also, fears and worries could be a contributor. Among the concerns some H-4 visa holders may have that could potentially dissuade them from pursuing work authorization include worries that:

  • The process will take too long.
  • The costs of applying will be too onerous.
  • They might not meet the qualifications.
  • The new regulations might be changed/eliminated in the future.
  • They could face harassment from U.S. workers.

Yet another thing that could keep a person from pursuing an available immigration option is not being aware of the option's existence.

So, among the things a U.S. visa holder may want to discuss with a lawyer are what kinds of options they have, their concerns regarding such options and how these concerns could be addressed. The right information can be a key thing for a person to have when making decisions regarding their immigration-related options.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, "Why Aren't Foreign Skilled Workers' Spouses Working?," Laura D. Francis, Oct. 6, 2016

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