U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require a Bachelor’s or higher degree and theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as science, engineering and computer programming. In addition to specialty occupation workers, the H-1B classification applies to individuals performing services related to a Department of Defense cooperative research and development project or coproduction project, and individuals performing services of distinguished merit and ability in the field of fashion modeling. A H-4 visa, on the other hand, is a visa issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the primary H-1B visa holder.
On February 25, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final rule that takes effect on May 26, 2015, allowing certain H-4 spouses to apply for employment authorization. In order for the H-4 spouse to qualify for employment authorization the principal H-1B worker must be the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or have received H-1B status under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000.
Employment authorization under this rule is a significant benefit because it will permit the qualifying H-4 spouse to obtain employment while the principal H-1B worker/spouse awaits visa priority date eligibility related to his or her green card application. DHS expects up to 180,000 H-4 dependent spouses to become eligible for employment authorization within the first year the rule is implemented, and another 55,000 additional spouses to be eligible each year thereafter.