On May 6, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed new rule that would permit spouses of certain H-1B workers to obtain employment authorization. Currently, H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders are not eligible to apply for work authorization – a situation that has long troubled holders of H-1B visas and their families. However, the new rule would allow H-4 dependent spouses to request employment authorization if the principal H-1B worker either: (1) is the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140; or (2) has been granted an extension of his or her authorized period of stay under the American Competiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (“AC21”). Spouses of H-1B visa holders who do not meet either of these criteria will still need to qualify on their own in order to work in the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the change is “part of a continued commitment to attract and retain highly skilled immigrants.” The rule, which is expected to be published in the Federal Register soon, will go into effect after a 60-day public-comment period, at which time eligible H-4 dependent spouses may begin to request work authorization. The full press release can be found here.