US immigration to allow some H-4 visa holders to work

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a change to the immigration law which would allow some H-4 visa holders to work. H-4 visas are granted to the spouse of H class work visa holders and to children under 21. The H-4 visa currently allows a spouse to reside in the US but does not allow him/her to work. It allows them to apply for a US driving license and open bank accounts.

The DHS proposal would see the spouses of workers who have come to the US with H-1B visas being given the right to work when a green card application (a commonly used term for US permanent residence) has been made by the H-1B visa holder. In order for the H-4 visa holder to qualify, the H-1B visa holder must have extended his/her H-1B visa beyond six years; This may be possible if the H-1B visa holder has a pending application for permanent residence.

H-1B visas allow graduate level employees to work in a "specialty occupation" in the US. As this is a "dual intent" visa this does not prevent them from applying for an employment based immigrant visa. H-1Bs are usually granted for an initial period of three years and can be renewed once to a maximum period of six years (unless the holder applies for permanent resident status in the way laid out in the paragraph below).

Applicants from India and China can wait for up to eight years

Under the current law, if an H-1B visa holder wants to apply for a green card, then he, or his employer, must submit an employment based I-140 immigrant petition before the fifth anniversary of the initial issue of the H-1B visa. Once this I-140 application has been made, the applicant can renew his H-1B visa if he has a pending permanent residence application. This can take a very long time because, even once an H-1B visa holder has been approved for a green card, he will have to wait in a queue until a visa becomes available because there is an annual limit on the number of green cards that can be issued to applicants from any one country. Applicants from India and China can wait for up to eight years. The H-4 visa holder is not currently entitled to work either before or after the application though, once the H-1B visa holder receives a green card, he will be entitled to make an I-130 application for a further green card for his spouse if he can prove to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services that he can afford to do so.

The DHS has said that allowing H-4 visa holders to work would make it more attractive for H-1B visa holders to stay in the US and with their employers. In a statement it said that the change was '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 says that the change would have a 'negligible' effect on the US job market and would bring US arrangements into line with the position in other developed countries. The proposal is currently being assessed by the US Office of Management and Budget. It will be several months at least before the change is introduced.

There are two further categories of H-1B visas.
• H-1B2 is for Department of Defense employees and
• H-1B3 for fashion models. Only well-known fashion models are likely to qualify

Other H class visas are the
• H-1C for registered nurses,
• the H-2A visa for seasonal agricultural workers,
• the H-2B for seasonal, non-agricultural workers and
• the H-3 for trainees, other than medical or academic trainees.

The change to the law allowing H-4 visa holders to work applies only to dependents of H-1B visa holders.

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