A timeline and history of H-4 EAD

Image via USCIS.gov

USCIS started giving employment authorization to H-4 visa holders in the summer of 2015.

January 24, 2012: In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama says “We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”

January 31, 2012: Referencing Obama’s commitment to fix “our broken immigration system so that it meets our 21st century national security and economic needs,” DHS proposes rule to “allow certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally work while their visa holder spouse waits for his or her adjustment of status application to be adjudicated,”

“This effort will help retain talented professionals who are valued by US employers and who seek to contribute to our economy,” DHS said.

January 2013: DHS again proposes giving employment authorization to H-4 visa holders, who are spouse-dependents of principal H-1B non-immigrant visa holders.

“This rule will encourage H-1B skilled workers to not abandon their adjustment application because their H-4 spouse is unable to work,” it said.

The proposed rules granting employment rights to some H4 visa holders were also “intended to mitigate some of the negative economic effects of limiting H-1B households to one income during lengthy waiting periods in the adjustment of status process,” the DHS noted.

May 2014:  The White House proposes guidelines “to give work permits to those spouses of H-1B visa holders who have a Green Card application being processed; and to attract highly skilled researchers and scientists from around the world.”

May 6, 2014: DHS announces proposal to “allow H-4 dependent spouses of certain H-1B nonimmigrant workers to request employment authorization, as long as the H-1B worker has already started the process of seeking lawful permanent residence through employment.”

November 20, 2014:  In an address to the Nation on Immigration, President Barack Obama announces plans to take executive action to “make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.”

Executive Action proposes providing portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting LPR status and their spouses.

DHS, the White House said, “is finalizing new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorization as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application”

February 24, 2015: The USCIS submits the final rule for the White House approval.

April 2015: Save Jobs USA — a group comprising former Southern California Edison employees who lost their positions to H-1B visa holders — files a lawsuit in D.C. District Court opposing the work permit.

May 26, 2015: USCIS begins receiving the applications from eligible H-4 visa holders. As many as 179,600 H-4 visa holders were eligible in the first year, and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.

June 2015: H-4 visa holders start getting the EAD.

November 8, 2016: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who repeatedly denounces H-1B program and immigration during the campaign, defeats Democrat Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election.

April 18, 2017: President Donald Trump issues an executive order outlining changes to the employment eligibility for H-4 spouses. The “Buy American and Hire American” executive order announces the administration’s intent to revoke the regulation permitting certain H-4 spouses to apply for work authorization. The regulatory agenda published in Fall 2017 reaffirms this intention, though few details are made available.

January 17, 2018: A coalition of business and tech advocacy groups representing giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Google urges the administration to continue the H-4 Visa Rule. In a letter to Lee Francis Cissna, Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, it requests the administration to stop its efforts to do away with the rule, arguing that such a move would harm America’s competitiveness and hinder efforts to recruit highly competitive employees from across the world.

February 20, 2019: The Department of Homeland Security signals its intention to end the H4 EAD submitting a proposal to terminate the H-4 EAD to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The proposed rule is titled, “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization.”

September 2019: The Department of Homeland Security tells the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that that the regulation that would eliminate H4 EAD will not be announced till early spring of 2020. It says even that is an aspirational time frame.

November 8, 2019: The US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit rules in favor of Save Jobs USA that giving work permits to spouses of H-1B visa holders increases job competition for US-born tech workers. But the court sends the case back to the lower district court to decide the merits of the case challenging the regulation.

January 25, 2021: The Biden administration withdraws the proposal to rescind H4 EAD.


H4 visa: a primer

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