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Spouses of Guest Workers Now Eligible for Work Permits Under Obama Actions

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The Department of Homeland Security is now accepting employment authorization applications for certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders.

In February, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez announced that, come May, the Obama administration would be extending employment authorization eligibility to a category of immigrant previously ineligible to work in the U.S. — dependent spouses of H-1B immigrants.

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DHS began accepting applications under the new H-4 employment rule — which was part of the executive actions on immigration President Obama put in motion on November 20 — Tuesday.

When the Obama administration announced the expansion in February, it anticipated that the number of individuals eligible to apply for work permits under the rule could be 179,600 in the first year and 55,000 for each subsequent year.

Last month, a group of former Southern California Edison employees — displaced by H-1B visa holders — sued the administration over the new H-4 rule, arguing that it negatively impacts their job prospects.

“DHS’s H-4 Rule, which grants work authorization to H-4 visa holders, injures Save Jobs USA’s members by (1) depriving them of statutory protections from foreign labor…(2) by increasing the number of economic competitors; and (3) by conferring benefits to their economic competitors on H-1B visas,” the lawsuit read.

The suit, filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute on the SCE workers’ behalf, made four specific allegations:

Count I: DHS exceeds its authority under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H) by authorizing H-4 visa holders to work.

Count II: DHS exceeds its authority by ignoring the statutory labor protections that must be applied to foreign labor.

Count III: DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously by reversing a statutory interpretation adopted by Congress.

Count IV: DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to gauge the effect of more foreign workers on domestic workers.

IRLI counsel John Miano argued the case in D.C. District Court last week. However, their motion for a preliminary injunction on the rule was denied Sunday.

“Just as in Texas’s fight against [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents ], the government’s attorneys argued today that President Obama can issue work permits to anyone he likes, despite clear language in the [Immigration Nationality Act] stipulating who can and cannot work in this country. If the court agrees with the President’s unprecedented claim, this will subvert our carefully crafted immigration laws and render Congress’s role meaningless.” IRLI Executive Director Dale Wilcox said in a statement last week.


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