Four spouses of H-1B visa holding workers who are facing undue delays in getting their H-4 visa extension and work authorisation applications renewed have sued the Trump administration.
A petition filed on June 6 in a US district court points out that the intentional processing delay by the United States and Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS), which adjudicates visa applications and extensions, has placed the plaintiffs (who filed the petition) and numerous other H-4 and H-4 EAD applicants in danger of losing their jobs, medical insurance (provided by the employer), and driver’s licences. The delay has strained the finances of the applicants and their families, and adversely impacted their employers, says the petition, demanding timely disposal of these applications.
Spouses of H-1B visa holders who are working in the US get a dependent (H-4) visa, the duration of which is coterminus with the tenure granted to the principal visa holder.
The H-4 visa itself does not enable the spouse to work or be self-employed. Only those spouses where the principal H-1B worker is on track for a green card (permanent residency) can obtain an employment authorisation document (EAD), which is the work permit.
USCIS taking up to 8.5 months to process H-4 visa applications
The EAD also enables the spouse to obtain a social security number and thus operate a bank account or obtain a driver’s licence.
Emily Neumann, partner at immigration law firm Reddy & Neumann (the firm representing the plaintiffs), told the media: “We have argued that it takes USCIS adjudicators an average of merely 24 minutes to process Form I-539 (application to extend non-immigration status) and 12 minutes to process Form I-765 (application for employment authorisation), yet it takes USCIS up to 8.5 months to adjudicate these applications according to current processing times.”
Both the H-4 extension and H-4 EAD are immigrant benefits that the US Congress expects the USCIS to complete within 30 days. The petition filed in the court (a copy of which is with TOI) explains that unlike H-1B, which allows the visa holder to work for a certain grace period while the extension is pending approval, no such rule exists for H-4 EAD holders. This creates a significant need for the applications to be dealt with in a timely and expeditious manner.
An H-4 EAD application cannot be approved without a valid H-4. As of May 2019, USCIS processing times for an H-4 application were as long as eight and a half months. Processing times for H-4 EAD is approximately 5 months currently, the petition adds.
“In many cases, while the H-1B extensions have been granted, the H-4 spouses continue to wait, losing out on jobs, medical insurance, and driver’s licences because they did not receive their EADs in time,” adds Neumann.
“The Trump administration has expressed its intention to revoke the EAD program. Meanwhile, it appears that the administration is building invisible blocks by delaying processing of our applications,” says an individual who is currently waiting for her H-4 extension and EAD renewal.