H-1B nonimmigrants are admitted to the U.S. as temporary workers, and the qualifying members of their family are generally admitted to the U.S. with an H-4 visa. Qualifying members include spouses and children under 21 years of age. The H-4 visa is valid for the length of time the H-1B visa holder has obtained approval for employment. Traditionally, H-4 visa holders were only allowed to undertake studies while in the U.S., and could not work. If an H-4 spouse wanted to work, they would have to file a change of status application with USCIS. This has changed through a recent announcement by USCIS.
On February 24, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that effective May 26, 2015 certain spouses of H-1B visa holders may be eligible for employment. This announcement came pursuant to President Obama’s announcement for Executive Action on Immigration in November of 2014. The extension of benefits to H-1B nonimmigrants’ spouses is one of the ways that the Obama administration is attempting to modernize and improve the visa programs to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs. In other words, USCIS estimates that up to 17,900 people in the first year, can obtain employment in the U.S. with an H-4 visa.
USCIS made this announcement with the caveat that the spouse must be married to 1) the H-1B nonimmigrant who is a principal beneficiary of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or 2) H-1B nonimmigrant who has been granted H-1B status under a certain provision of the law that allows that nonimmigrant to seek lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the U.S. beyond the normal six-year H-1B status time threshold.
With this new benefit, the U.S hopes to lessen some of the economic hardship on families that are currently in the U.S., and who are trying to transition from nonimmigrant to permanent resident status. This in turn should attract more highly skilled workers, who may have been hesitant to work or remain in the U.S. during this process. It is important to note that these benefits are not yet available, and USCIS will only start accepting applications as of May 26, 2015. More information will be upcoming in the next several months so pay close attention to the news, and do not be swayed by individuals who claim they can help you immediately.