United States Citizenship & Immigration Services finally announced that H-4 visa holders will now be allowed to legally work in the United States effective May 26, 2015. The long wait is now over. USCIS director Leon Rodriguez made this announcement, which comes as a relief to thousands of H-4 visa holders who are now eligible to apply for Employment Authorization Card by filing necessary forms and paying the filing fees to the USCIS, writes immigration attorney Mahesh Bajoria.

It is an irony that while dependent spouses of L-1 visa holders are allowed to work in the United States from the initial approval of the spouses L-1 by filing necessary paper work with the USCIS, dependent spouses of H-1B workers were not allowed to work in the U.S. even though they may be well educated and high tech professionals.

If one gets married to a H-1B worker and comes to the U.S., he or she will be surprised to find that the H-4 dependent spouse is not allowed to work even though he or she may be well educated and skilled worker. Besides, if the H-4 spouse tries to gain employment through the application of H-1B process, there are many hurdles of annual H-1B quotas, uncertainty of getting picked up in the lottery and finding a suitable employer and employment. Some employers may not be interested to go the extra mile to face the expenses and hassle of filing H-1B visas. This inability to work for the dependent spouses of H-1B workers was also a leading cause for the abuse of spouses who could not work and were forced to stay home.

Often it has been seen that the H-1B workers will threaten their spouses to obey them and mistreat them. H-4 spouses live in constant fear of deportation if the H-1B spouse files for divorce or does not even file for the extension of H-4 visa for the spouse. There have been instances where the H-4 spouses have been tortured mentally and physically at the hands of H-1B spouses because H-4 spouses cannot work, cannot get social security number and cannot even open a bank account of their own.

Allowing H-4 workers to work in the U.S will help reduce the stress on the family, develop and grown the economy as more workers will join the work force and contribute to the society, which in turn will allow more qualified educated workers to the U.S.

Leon Rodrigues goes on to state: “Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense. It helps U.S. businesses keep their highly skilled workers by increasing the chances these workers will choose to stay in this country during the transition from temporary workers to permanent residents. It also provides more economic stability and better quality of life for the affected families.”

The new rules do not allow blanket permission to all H-4 spouses in the U.S. to work. It is meant for a select few. It allows only spouses of certain categories to apply for the permission to work.

To qualify to apply for employment authorization, the H-1B spouse must be the beneficiary of an approved I-140 or the H-1B spouse has been granted H-1B status beyond the six-year limit.

What it means is that either the H-1B spouse has been in the U.S. under an approved H-1B visa for more than six years or has been the beneficiary of an approved green card petition, I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker filed by the U.S. petitioning employer.

H-1B is a temporary visa, which can be granted for a maximum period of up to 6 years. To stay beyond the allowed period of 6 years on H-1B, the employer must file a petition for permanent residency for the employee on H-1B visa.

There are strict procedural requirements for filing such petition and the petitioning employer has to process this. Spouses of only those H-1B employees who have fulfilled the above requirements or meet these requirements are eligible to take advantage of this new law.

To receive the work authorization, the eligible H-4 spouses should apply to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services in form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization on or after May 26, 2015, and pay a filing fee of $380 to get Employment Authorization Card.

The H-4 spouse then can work in the U.S. only after receiving the Employment Authorization Card in form I-766. H-4 spouse should note that they should not file this application before May 26, 2015 as it may be rejected. Currently, the announcement permits a quota of 179,600 for this year to get employment authorization and a quota of 55,000 annually thereafter.

It would have been better if the rules permitted new non-immigrants coming under H-4 visa to work in the U.S. However, this is a breakthrough and a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the administration will further relax the rules and permit the new H-4 spouses coming to the U.S. to fulfill their dreams get an opportunity to work in the U.S. and cater to the U.S economy at the same time.

(The information provided here is of a general nature and is not to be construed as legal advice nor intended to apply for any specific or particular circumstance. Consult your legal advisor before relying on the author’s views and information.)