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What the Loss of Spousal Employment Authorizations Could Mean for You

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on June 20, 2019

Legal challenges threaten to take the right to gain employment in the U.S. away from H-4 visa holders, which could have significant personal and economic effects. Often the spouses of H-1B visa holders, people with H-4 visas were given the ability to obtain work status by the implementation of the H-4 Employment Authorization Document rule in 2015. The Trump Administration is working on approval for a regulation that would rescind the rule, and the EAD program faces the threat of a lawsuit questioning whether the Obama Administration had the authority to create such a rule.

What is the H-4 EAD Rule?

The H-4 EAD rule allows the spouses of qualifying H-1B visa holders to work legally in the U.S. Prior to the publishing of this regulation, H-4 dependents could not be lawfully employed until their spouses and they became U.S. residents.

Not all H-4 spouses can work under the rule. To qualify for an EAD, the H-1B spouse must have an approved immigration petition for alien worker form or be sponsored for employment-based permanent residency and have reached the point in the process where they become exempt from the six-year limit.

Emotional and Financial Consequences of Eliminating the Rule

Should the actions to rescind the H-4 EAD rule succeed, it could have a significant impact on H-1B professionals and their families. The rule was designed and implemented to help alleviate some of the personal and economic hardships experienced by H-1B workers and their spouses while they transition to green card status. Removing the ability for H-4 spouses to gain legal employment could affect their families’ financial stability, and it can take years to get approval for a work visa or to gain legal permanent residency.

Additionally, disallowing H-4 spouses from working can also take an emotional toll on H-4 spouses. Men and women gain a feeling of self-worth from contributing to their households and the economy. Taking away their ability to get gainful employment takes away that feeling and it makes them emotionally and financially dependent on their spouses.

Effects on the U.S. Economy

As a result of their spouses’ inability to obtain employment for significantly long periods of time, H-1B professionals may choose to pursue opportunities outside the U.S., which could impede the country’s economic competitiveness. Further, pushing these workers to other countries may further exacerbate an already-developing shortage of workers in certain information and technology fields.