23 US lawmakers ask USCIS to fix spousal work permit backlog

Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security .Processing delays also threaten the over $7.5 billion that spouses contribute to the US economy

Across America, tens of thousands of immigrant women, most of them Indian, have been unemployed through the pandemic.

Many families reeling under mortgages and debts have spent the difficult Covid-19 period on a single income.

It’s not that these women have always been unemployed. In fact many of them holding professional degrees were employed in high-profile jobs in important fields ranging from STEM to academics.

The reason for this less-talked about forced unemployment is that these women had been working on dependent visas in the US, which requires a work authorization issued and renewed by the USCIS every few years.

Read: USCIS seeks to include work permits in premium processing (December 15, 2021)

For the past couple of years, most work permit holders have been experiencing unexplained delays in the processing time for their EAD or work permits, some even waiting for more than a year to get their permit.

As a result, with their permits expiring before the renewal they were forced to give up on their jobs.

On Tuesday, 23 US House members led by Deborah Ross wrote a letter to Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and USCIS director Ur Mendoza Jaddou asking them to fix this problem faced by immigrants on work visas.

Signed among others by Indian American House members Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna and Sheila Jackson Lee, the letter urged them to reduce processing delays for spousal work authorizations.

“H-4 and L-2 visa applicants have recently had to wait 11 months to two years to have their documents renewed—even though it only takes USCIS 12 minutes to process Form I-765 and 24 minutes to process Form I-539.”

The letter requests that DHS work expeditiously to implement the recent Shergill v. Mayorkas settlement; eliminate additional causes of delays by reinstating joint adjudication or primary and dependent visas and work authorizations; and expand the premium processing to additional visa categories, including H-4 and L-2 EADs.

Highlighting the long wait times faced by the dependent spouses, it says, “Due to the Trump administration’s changes to visa processing, H-4 and L-2 visa applicants have recently had to wait 11 months to two years to have their documents renewed—even though it only takes USCIS 12 minutes to process Form I-765 and 24 minutes to process Form I-539.”

On the contribution that these women are making to American economy, the letter says, “The vast majority of H-4 and L-2 workers are highly educated women, many of whom are employed in STEM fields in the United States.”

“Processing delays have left their families without a second income, forcing them to dip into their savings, sell their homes, and take other drastic measures to stay on their feet.”

Read: USCIS approved 50% more green cards in FY 2021 (December 17, 2021)

“These delays also threaten the over $7.5 billion that these workers contribute to the US economy,” the lawmakers pointed out.

“In order to address this issue more holistically,” they wrote, “we request that joint adjudication of primary and dependent visas and work authorizations be reinstated.”

The lawmakers also urged “USCIS to quickly expand premium processing to additional visa categories, including H-4 and L-2 visas and EADs.”

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