Top Ten Tips for H-4 Spouses

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What Is the Trump Administration’s Problem with Working Spouses?

So, you’re married to an H-1B and have the good fortune of accompanying your spouse during his or her assignment in the U.S. This should be an exciting time for you and your family. You can explore new opportunities and your children get to learn a new language and culture. However, the Trump administration has not been a gracious host. This administration has made it painfully difficult for families of H-1B workers to live and work in the U.S.

By now many of you have heard about the Trump Administration’s plan to eliminate work authorization for H-4 dependent spouses. These spouses and their families are the immediate family members of H-1B workers. Since the institution of the H-1B visa program, Congress understood the importance of family unity. Congress created the H-4 category for spouses and children of H-1B workers so they could accompany their spouse/parent during their stay in the U.S.  Before 2015, H-4 visa holders were permitted to attend school, but not to work. In 2015, Congress recognized the economic and emotional strain this imposed on H-1B families, and issued a final rule granting work authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of the H-1B nonimmigrants who are in the process of obtaining employment-based legal permanent resident status. (See: Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and immigration Services, “Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses,” 80 Federal Register 10283, February 25, 2015).

On April 24, 2018, Jill H. Wilson of the Congressional Research Service published a report entitled “Work Authorization for H-4 Spouses of H-1B Temporary Workers: Frequently Asked Questions.” This report published USCIS statistics related to the use of H-4 Work Authorization. According to the USCIS’s own statistics, 93% of all approved H-4 employment authorization cards were issued to women. Ninety-Three Percent!

Why would the Trump Administration remove the ability of these women to work, pay taxes, provide for their families, and spend their hard-earned money on U.S. goods? If we look at other non-immigrant worker classifications, including L and E visas, those dependent spouses are granted work authorization. Why the discrepancy?

To add insult to injury, USCIS has recently discontinued courtesy premium processing to families of H-1B beneficiaries. This means that while a U.S. company can spend an additional $1,410 to USCIS for 15-day processing of their employee’s petition, that expedited service no longer applies to the family members. Now family members are forced to wait months for their status to be approved and their employment cards to be issued. Even in the case where USCIS makes an error with a family member’s petition, the Premium Processing unit will no longer take calls regarding spouses and children.

Who will benefit from these Trump changes? Not the U.S. Employer. This will only make it more difficult for U.S employers to attract and retain talent. Not the U.S. Economy. Legal work authorization increases tax revenue and consumer spending. Not USCIS. Their revenue comes from filing fees. No more work authorization means fewer fee-based applications.

Trump’s Buy America Hire America proclamation is stuck in the 1950’s when families could survive on one income and the internet was a thing for science fiction books. The reality is we need these working spouses. They keep our economy humming and they ensure that the U.S. remains the land of opportunity.

My top ten tips for H-4 Spouses:

  1. If eligible for employment authorization, apply now: Do not wait for a job offer to get your EAD. The wait times are long and with pending elimination, apply as soon as possible;
  2. Apply for your extension as early as possible;
  3. Go to school: If you can afford to, get your degree. Advanced degrees create more opportunities;
  4. Get a driver’s license;
  5. Check to make sure your I-94 is accurate by going to the following website: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
  6. If your I-94 is incorrect, seek counsel to have it corrected. CBP makes mistakes constantly!
  7. Remember that your status is dependent on your spouse’s status – if he/she loses status, so do you and your children;
  8. Never work without employment authorization: This can jeopardize your status and ability to stay in the U.S.
  9. If your spouse’s H-1B is approved, consider consular processing. It is an expensive headache but faster than USCIS;
  10. Seek legal counsel about alternative visa options. If you have skills and an education, you might have other viable options.

About the Author

Laura Rosmarin

Senior Counsel

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