The H-4 visa is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status in the US.(NYT Photo/ Representative image)
The H-4 visa is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status in the US.(NYT Photo/ Representative image)

Inordinate delay in processing of H-4 work authorisation, say spouses of H-1B visa holders

An H-4 visa is issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the H-1B visa holders, most of whom are Indian IT professionals.
PTI |
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 11:37 AM IST

There has been inordinate delay in issuing of H-4 work authorisation permits to certain categories of spouses of those possessing H-1B foreign work visas, the most sought after among Indian IT professionals, a group of highly talented Indian women in the US has said.

An H-4 visa is issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the H-1B visa holders, most of whom are Indian IT professionals.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

The H-4 visa is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status in the US.

A group of such Indian women over the weekend organised a protest march in San Jose, California on the occasion of International Women’s Day to highlight the suffering of tens of thousands of immigrant women being forced out of their livelihoods, organisers of the event SaveH4EAD said.

Spouses of Indian professionals on H-1B visas, mostly women, are the biggest beneficiary of the Obama-era rule that gave employment authorisation cards.

“We are here to reiterate that this is our home, this is where we have spent the last many years of our lives, raised families and contributed positively to the society and economy as skilled legal immigrants,” said Pratima Joglekar, California chapter lead volunteer and organiser of the event.

The group has sought the Biden administration’s attention to end these arbitrary policies that are disproportionately oppressing women of colour and robbing them of their livelihood.

A week after his inauguration on January 20, US President Joe Biden withdrew a Trump-era rule rescinding work authorisation for H-4 visa holders, who are spouses of those possessing H-1B work visas, with majority being highly-skilled Indian women.

“My wife’s H-4 renewal is pending for 5 months. We’re going through a very difficult time in paying her residency tuition as she’s not being allowed to work as a Teaching Assistant. I’m the only earning member and it has been extremely stressful for our family,” said Sreenidhi Krishnamoorthy, whose wife is currently a student at San Jose State University.

Participants of the march alleged that USCIS has delayed the processing of H-4 and H4EAD ((Employment Authorisation Document) applications excessively, to the point that it is effectively killing the programme.

“These delays have led to a serious humanitarian crisis causing havoc in the lives of thousands of skilled legal immigrant women across the US. They’re losing their jobs and health insurances during this pandemic, are unable to renew driver’s license and state ID, unable to travel to their home country or elsewhere, facing grave financial distress, going through severe mental health issues, deep impact on family and kids, among other issues,” a media release said.

Many of these are essential workers, healthcare workers, small business owners, researchers, engineers, and more, they said.

The Obama era rule to provide work permits to certain categories of spouses of H-1B visas has benefited approximately 100,000 H-4 spouses their basic right to work, be financially independent and contribute positively to the American economy. Over 95 per cent of the H4EAD recipients are highly-skilled women from diverse fields of work, it said.

In a statement, SaveH4EAD group attributes the current astronomical processing delays by the USCIS to two main factors: the additional biometric requirements implemented by the previous administration through Executive Order 13780, and the delays due to Covid-related restrictions.

The group hoped that the Biden administration will provide immediate relief by removing the additional biometrics requirements since the guiding Executive Order 13780 has already been revoked by President Biden on Day 1, and allowing anyone who has filed for H-4 and H-4 EAD application to use their receipt notice as proof of employment authorisation until USCIS is able to adjudicate the application.

The group urged the administration to make it a policy to allow for concurrent processing of H-1B/H-4 applications when filed together, implement premium processing for H-4 and H-4 EAD applications as soon as possible through H.R.8337 - Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act.

They are also seeking auto-extension of H-4 EAD for 180-240 days while the renewal application is pending and codifying H-4 EAD into law as either a stand-alone immigration bill or as part of United States Citizenship Act 2021, or any other smaller immigration bill.

As of December 2017, USCIS had approved 1,26,853 applications for employment authorisation for H-4 visa holders. According to a 2018 report by Congressional Research Service (CRS) 93 per cent of approved applications for H-4 employment authorisation were issued to individuals born in India, and 5 were issued to individuals born in China.

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