Spouses of U.S. immigrants holding high-skill H-1B visas will be able to work in the country later this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced.
The DHS decision will benefit holders of H-4 visas, which allow spouses of H-1B and other employment visa holders to legally live in the U.S. Until now, H-4 visa holders could not work in the U.S. until they received a green card, granting them permanent residency.
In some cases, the backlog for green card processing is over 10 years. DHS will begin taking applications for U.S. work eligibility from H-4 visa holders in late May.
FWD.us, the high-skill immigration advocacy group cofounded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, praised the DHS decision. The move will allow "tens of thousands" of H-1B worker spouses to find employment in the U.S. and contribute to the economy, said Kate Hansen, FWD.us communications director. Many H-1B visa holders work in the U.S. tech industry.
The DHS announcement is a "step toward fixing our broken immigration system," Hansen said during a press briefing.
DHS will allow 179,600 applications for Employment Authorization Documents [EADs] in the first year of the program, with 55,000 in the following years. H-4 visa holders will be able to reapply for EADs as long as they are allowed to stay in the U.S. or until they get their green cards, FWD.us said.
A change in the H-4 visa program was part of a series of executive actions on immigration that President Barack Obama announced in November.
Three current or former H-4 visa holders praised the DHS decision during the FWD.us press briefing. Neha Mahajan, a TV journalist who came to the U.S. with her family in 2008, said she's been frustrated because she cannot work in the country.
"This rule has come as a big, big relief to me," she said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.