The past several years have introduced unprecedented delays and bottlenecks to the U.S. immigration system. For many spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders, these delays put their jobs and their very livelihoods at risk. Processing times for renewing employment authorization grew so long, many lost their jobs while they were waiting for renewal.
Recently, a group of H-4 and L-2 visa workers reached a settlement with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that will allow eligible spouses to continue working legally once they apply for a new EAD card. This automatic extension will allow hard-working foreign nationals to keep their jobs and continue supporting their families.
Details of the lawsuit
H-4 spouses, as dependents of H-1B skilled workers, must obtain their own employment authorization to work in the United States. Some L-2 visa holders, spouses of L-1 workers, were previously also required to obtain authorization to work. This authorization is temporary, and workers must apply to renew their documentation once it nears expiration.
Eligible workers can apply to renew their work eligibility no earlier than 180 days before their current authorization expires. However, in recent years, applications were taking as long as 9-14 months to process. This meant that many workers were forced to leave their jobs while they were left waiting for their work authorization to renew.
As wait times grew and more workers felt the pain of the USCIS delays, a settlement was reached that allowed eligible H-4 and L-2 visa holders who have submitted their applications to continue working for up to 6 months after their current documentation expires.
What does the USCIS settlement mean for H-4 and L-2 visa holders?
If you have applied for new work authorization as an H-4 or L-2 visa holder, you will automatically receive a 180-day extension to your current employment authorization. This is effective immediately, though you will still need to submit your new application to receive this extension.
The settlement will also give L-2 spouses work authorization incidental to their visa status, allowing them to work as soon as they enter the country in L-2 status. This change will not take effect for several months, however, as new forms must be introduced. Until then, L-2 visa holders may still be required to obtain the necessary documentation to work.
Many challenges in the immigration system still remain
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the U.S. immigration system. While the new administration desired to alleviate many of the issues creating the delays and bottlenecks, processing times remain high and the number of foreign workers living in the U.S. continues to drop.
Just this year, the number of H-1B workers in mathematics and engineering dropped 12.6% – the steepest decline in over a decade. Combined with the previous year, these professions have declined by 19% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
While foreign nationals in and outside of the U.S. continue to feel the impact of these delays, hope may still be on the horizon. Several restrictions set in place by the previous administration were allowed to expire in 2021, and immigration initiatives were put into place to increase the number of visa approvals.