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Spouses of H1-B holders may soon be able to work in the US

A new rule would allow dependents of H1-B holders to work in the U.S.

A new proposal would allow spouses of H1-B holders to apply for U.S. work authorization. Current regulations do not extend the right to work to dependents (i.e. a wife who is a career engineer). This causes challenges for many couples and keeps some from moving to the U.S. in the first place.

Recently, National Public Radio interviewed a professional woman from India who had managed a large sales department for a multi-national company. After she married a man who worked in IT on an H1-B visa and moved to the States she learned she could no longer work. She became so bored that she decided to return to India and her husband will soon follow. For professional women the restrictions tied to the H1-B visa of a spouse can stall out a promising career.

Response to the tech industry

The Obama administration announced the proposed rule in response to requests from the tech industry to help them attract and keep foreign talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The proposed rule is an administrative work around for a Congress that has failed to pass any immigration reforms in recent years.

How will the proposed rule work?

Each year there are 85,000 H-1B visas issued to highly skilled foreign workers. Of these visas, 20,000 are reserved for individuals with advanced degrees. Earlier this year the available visas were taken in one week. Last year, the same thing happened.

The rule change could affect as many as 100,000 H1-B visa holders across the country.

However, the decision will not provide blanket approval for all spouses of H-1B visa holders. To become eligible the sponsor company will need to have petitioned for an immigrant visa for the foreign employee. This means the opportunity to work will only be available to a spouse, if the foreign employee is on track to obtain lawful permanent residency or a green card.

EB-1 visa change also proposed

Another proposed change will ease the requirements for EB-1 visas (40,000 are available each year) for researchers and professors who have extraordinary ability. Applicants for this type of visa needed to demonstrate their outstanding recognition and contribution in a field with awards or scholarly articles. The new rule will broaden the category of evidence that is accepted.

Soon the proposed rules will be published in the Federal Register. Following a required 60-day comment period, they are likely to go into effect. The exact process for spouses to obtain work authorization is not yet clear.

The decision to move the U.S. is not an easy one especially when one spouse has to give up a career. Now that hurdle may no longer stand in the way. An immigration attorney can explain procedural requirements as the rule is finalized and help you through the process to obtain work authorization.

Keywords: H1-B, employment immigration