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What are the new rules governing H-4 visas?

The H-1B visa has proven to be an invaluable tool for U.S. employers looking to add individuals with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to their workforce. Indeed, the visa has helped immigrants from all corners of South Asia secure valuable work experience and forge lasting connections here in the U.S.

Interestingly enough, however, the experience of the spouses of these H-1B visa holders, the vast majority of whom are women with their own education and experience, has been decidedly different. Indeed, these spouses, known as H-4 visa holders have long been denied the chance to pursue any sort of career.

What are the restrictions governing H-4 visa holders?

Immigration law has long dictated that H-4 visa holders were not eligible for work authorization, meaning many otherwise highly educated and skilled people were unable to secure any type of employment during the six-year term of their spouses' H-1B visas.

This inability to work and, by extension, contribute to the marital household resulted in many H-4 visa holders referring to it as a "golden cage."

Are H-4 visa holders still subject to these restrictions?

Since May 26, H-4 visa holders have been able to apply for work authorization.
The change came about thanks to a provision contained in President Obama's executive actions on immigration that he signed last November.

Do H-4 visa holders then have carte blanche to seek work authorization?

No, H-4 visa holders can only seek work authorization under the following scenarios:

  • Their spouse is in the process of applying for a green card.
  • Their spouse has received an extension on their H-1B visa.

How many people will benefit from these new rules?

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is estimated that over 180,000 applications for work authorization will be filed by H-4 visa holders over the coming year, leveling off to around 55,000 per year thereafter.

If you have questions or concerns regarding H-1B visas, H-4 visas or any other employment-based visa, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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