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Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

Time appears to be almost up for more than 100,000 foreign citizens working in the United States under an Obama-era special authorization for spouses of foreign workers here on the H-1B visa.

When Congress failed legislatively to address the lengthy wait times for many professionals and their families to be granted resident status, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2015, under the Obama administration, issued a regulation to allow H-4 visa spouses of qualified H-1B professionals to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD). Some members of Congress complained that the executive branch was overstepping its authority by making law—which is Congress’s job—and the regulation was the subject of much debate during the last presidential election. Now the Trump administration is seeking to make good on the President’s campaign promise to eliminate EADs for H-4 spouses.

This change especially impacts US employers of people born in India.

The reason why Indian-born professionals are impacted is because there are numerical limits on the number of green cards granted each year. To promote the diversity of new immigrants to the US, there are quota limits on the place of birth. No more than 7 percent of the total number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas available in a fiscal year may be issued to natives of any one independent country. As the demand for Indian-born professionals is far greater than the annual supply of green cards under the quota, this has created a backlog.

In 2018 for instance, the backlog of Indian-born professionals waiting their turn to get a green card was well in excess of a half million individuals. As a result, it now takes many years for an Indian-born professional to receive his or her green card. As a consequence, Indian-born professionals comprise the bulk of H-4 EAD holders.

Under the current regulation, an H-4 spouse can request an EAD if the H-1B professional is the beneficiary of either an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition, or a Department of Labor alien employment certification application or employment-based immigrant visa petition filed at least 365 days prior to the end of the sixth year of the professional’s H-1B status.

In April 2017, President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which, among other things, directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with other agencies, to review H-1B-related policies. The H-4 EAD regulation was one of the policies reviewed and the result was its proposed elimination.

US employers rely on H-1B professionals to make up for the shortage of qualified American professionals while keeping jobs in the US. CEOs of major US companies, sent a letter to DHS opposing the plan to eliminate the H-4 EAD. The letter pointed out that “[t]hese spouses are often highly skilled in their own rights,” and “revoking their US work authorization will likely cause high-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the United States.

These US employers found some support in Congress. Senators Kamala D. Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to DHS and USCIS opposing rescission of the H-4 EAD, pointing out that the proposed change would disproportionately impact South Asian women (in 2017, 94 percent of H-4 EAD were women and 93 percent were from India).

But the administration has not changed its position. In November 2018, DHS published its mid-year regulatory agenda, which included a proposed rule to revoke the H-4 employment authorization final rule. DHS stated that “[s]ome U.S. workers would benefit from this proposed rule by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold, as the proposed rule would no longer allow H-4 workers to enter the labor market early.” With record low unemployment levels and US employers already complaining of recruiting problems, it is unclear where the DHS thinks employers will find these US workers.

The new rule, if adopted, is expected to become effective in the first half of 2019 and would impact all 100,000+ individuals currently holding an H-4 EAD. Researchers also estimate that the proposed rule will affect entire families, including the H-1B professionals themselves, because many will not be able to afford to live on one income if their dependent spouse is forced to abandon his or her career. This is especially true in areas such as Seattle and the Silicon Valley, which employ high numbers of H-1B workers and have a high cost of living. Entire families may leave the US, taking their job skills to other countries to compete with their former employers—whose only options to remain competitive may be to outsource the jobs or set up their own offshore facilities. Nearshoring to Canada has become increasingly popular, due to the relatively lower cost of doing business there and proximity to the US.

The direct cost of each failed expatriate assignment is estimated to range from $250,000 to $1 million, according to researchers. More important, the departure of these highly skilled workers represents a brain drain and a significant loss of talent for most companies.

Dentons helps employers develop strategies to recruit the world’s best and brightest to fill posts in the US and abroad. For more information, please contact the authors or your Dentons lawyer.

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Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

New Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual for US employers

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a revised Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual. Employers should use the new Form I-9 for all new hires and for re-verification of current employees when their temporary employment authorization expires.

Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States, citizens and noncitizens included.

USCIS, which is an agency under the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), operates the E‑Verify program, an Internet-based system that allows any US employer to electronically verify the employment eligibility of a newly hired employee.

E-Verify is a voluntary program. However, employers with federal contracts or subcontracts that contain the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause are required to enroll in E-Verify as a condition of federal contracting. E-Verify is also a requirement for employers of F-1 foreign students employed under STEM Optional Practical Training. Further, employers in states that have enacted legislation require some or all employers to utilize E-Verify as a condition of business licensing.

The new Form I-9 is available at the USCIS website. The new E-Verify User Manual is available for download here.

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New Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual for US employers

US State Department visa and passport processing almost back to normal

The US State Department announced on August 4 that most of the worldwide backlog of nonimmigrant visa cases have been resolved.  The Department continues to prioritize immigration cases and are printing visas with very few delays, although system performance issues remain an issue and the Consular Consolidated Database is not yet back to full operational capacity.  Visa applicants are advised they might still experience delays of up to one week in addition to normal processing times.

In late July, the Department announced technical problems with the passport and visa system.  By July 27, immigrant visas were given high priority.  The story was widely reported in major media, including many stories of the hardship caused to foreign workers at American companies who were unable to obtain visas to come to the US for work and other problems.   On July 31, the government was still anticipating it would take weeks to resume full visa processing.

The current reports are welcome news, but come with the warning that visa delays are still happening, just that the delays are shorter.  Employers and foreign employees seeking visas should take this into account when planning travel.  It may be faster to delay scheduling an appointment at a consular post until the problem is fully resolved OR it may be important to schedule an appointment as early as possible to allow sufficient time for processing.

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US State Department visa and passport processing almost back to normal

Immigration compliance and the importance of getting it right

Bilfinger_Compliance_Better-think-twice

Verification of all employees’ eligibility for employment in the United States is required, but can result in penalties if  a company reverifies unnecessarily — and discriminatorily.

A US employer agreed to pay $43,000 in civil penalties, undergo training on proper compliance, and submit to monitoring of compliance for 18 months as part of a settlement agreement reached last week with the US Justice Department.

The Justice Department found the employer engaged in discrimination during the employment eligibility verification process when it required lawful permanent residents to reverify their employment eligibility after their alien registration cards expired, as well as requiring permanent residents to produce specific documents.

US law requires employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all employees hired.  Reverification is required for employees who are not permanently authorized for employment in the US, such as individuals with temporary visas like H-1B, TN, L-1, etc., as well as those with employment authorization documents.  However, reverification is not required for US citizens and lawful permanent residents, since they are permanently authorized for employment, not withstanding the fact that US passports and alien registration cards generally expire and must be renewed every 10 years.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency provides a list of the acceptable documents to prove identity and employment eligibility.  The law allows the employee to select any documents from the acceptable list and forbids employers from mandating specific documents.  The law prohibits citizenship and national origin discrimination.

For more information, see the Justice Department press release.

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Immigration compliance and the importance of getting it right