Spouses of certain H-1B visa workers now eligible for employment authorization

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published final regulations that will extend employment authorization eligibility to spouses of certain nonimmigrant workers who are in the United States on H-1B visas.

The H-1B, or highly-skilled worker, visa is the most commonly discussed and highly sought employment-based nonimmigrant visa. The number of visas available each year is closely capped—20,000 for applicants holding master’s degrees and 65,000 for those holding bachelor’s degrees—so selection is often made using a random lottery. For the 2015 fiscal year, 172,500 applications for H-1B visas were submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

H-1B visas are issued to individuals working in specialized areas of expertise, such as computer science or engineering. Generally, at least a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent work experience and recognition of expertise) is required.

The H-1B visa itself is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning that it is issued to persons who have an established permanent residence outside the United States and have sought entry into the country on a temporary basis. However, because of the highly skilled nature of H-1B work, many employees with this status later pursue lawful permanent residence, often sponsored by the domestic employer, to continue their valued contributions to U.S. business and entrepreneurship.

Although spouses and dependent children are already allowed to accompany an H-1B worker into the United States under an H-4 visa, they haven’t been permitted to seek employment of their own using the H-4 status. The new regulation will now provide these spouses with employment authorization if their H-1B spouses are pursuing lawful permanent residence.