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White House Poised to End Work Permits for H-1B Spouses

A program providing work permits to the spouses of some H-1B skilled guestworkers appears to be coming to an end.

A proposed regulation has been completed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to eliminate work authorization to the H-4 spouses of H-1B workers who have been approved for green cards but are waiting for them to become available. The proposal was sent for review on February 20th.

The administration first announced its intent to do away with the employment authorization documents (EADs/work permits) in early 2017. The announcement came in the context of a lawsuit against the program launched in 2015 by the Obama administration.

Some 90,000 foreign nationals, mostly women from India, hold EADs through the program. The regulation will either immediately revoke EADs or phase them out by prohibiting renewal once a current permit expires. Large tech companies, work permit holders and their supporters say the loss of that ability to work would harm them as well as the U.S. economy.

“The H-4 rule represents a valuable but targeted opportunity for us to not just attract and retain talent, but to promote immigration to the United States on the basis of one’s skills and merit,” according to a 2018 letter to the USCIS from several employer groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Information Technology Industry Council, and Compete America, a pro-immigration employer coalition.

Briefs are due to the appeals court in mid-March. The final decision will come into play when the rulemaking process is complete, which involves publishing the proposed regulation, allowing the public to comment, and then issuing a finalized regulation taking those comments into consideration.

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