DHS Extends Eligibility for Employment Authorization to Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses

by Joseph McKeown

US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez announced today that as part of President Obama's executive actions back in November 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is extending employment eligibility to H-4 visa holders of H-1B spouses who are seeking employment-based permanent resident status. Applications will start being accepted on May 26, 2015.

This action is "one of several initiatives underway to modernize, improve and clarify visa programs to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs." Director Rodríguez said that granting employment to these spouses will not only provide "more economic stability and better quality of life" to the families but also that it will help "U.S. businesses keep their highly skilled workers by increasing the chances these workers will choose to stay in this country during the transition from temporary workers to permanent residents."

To qualify, individuals must be H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who: 

  • Are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or 
  • Have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. The Act permits H-1B nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.

Eligible applicants must submit a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization along with supporting evidence and the required $380 fee to USCIS, beginning on May 26, 2015. H-4 applicants can begin work in the US upon approval of the application and receipt of the work card. 

As many as 179,600 individuals this year could be eligible for employment authorization under this new eligibility rule, USCIS estimates, and DHS expects that "this change will reduce the economic burdens and personal stresses H-1B nonimmigrants and their families may experience during the transition from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident status, and facilitate their integration into American society."

This announcement comes amid court challenges to President Obama's expansion of DACA as well as the possible impending shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (the mother agency of USCIS).