DHS announced it was issuing a proposed rule to allow some H-4s to get work cards as a step to encouraging entrepreneurial activity and economic development. Initially, I yawned thinking that the proposed rule would only help a small number of people.

Last winter, DHS previewed its plans.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to amend its regulations by extending the availability of employment authorization to H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B nonimmigrants who have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment and have extended their authorized period of admission or “stay” in the U.S. under section 104(c) or 106(a) of Public Law 106-313, also known as the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21). Allowing the eligible class of H-4 dependent spouses to work encourages professionals with high demand skills to remain in the country and help spur the innovation and growth of U.S. companies.

That would have greatly limited the number of H-4s eligible for work authorization because only those with H-1B spouses running out their six year H-1B limits would have benefited.

But the announcement today from DHS went further.  According to DHS, here’s what the proposed rule would do.

Eligible individuals would include H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B workers who:

Are the beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
Have been granted an extension of their authorized period of stay in the United States under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21) as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. AC21 permits H-1B workers seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit.

The first part is the key. One need not wait until close to the end of the six year H-1B period to get the proposed benefit. If an H-1B spouse starts green card processing earlier, then the H-4 spouse can get work authorization sooner as well. This would include people whose H-1B spouses would be in long queues for green cards because of backlogs and per country limits.

This is welcome news and DHS is to be congratulated for going bigger than what they originally were saying. A lot of H-4s will open businesses because of the versatility of the employment authorization document. That’s great news as many will create jobs for Americans and promote economic development across the country.

Greg Siskind