Major Settlement Changes How USCIS Adjudicates Work Permits for Nonimmigrant Spouses


The Biden administration reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit on Wednesday that will make it simpler for immigrant spouses without a visa to continue working in the U.S. without having to re-up their employment authorization. The settlement, reached in a lawsuit brought by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on behalf of immigrant spouses in August, will help thousands of immigrants in relationships with H-1B and L-1 visa holders who were facing prolonged delays to obtain their employment authorization because of a backlog in the system.

Specifically, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will give L-2 spouses automatic work authorization, which means they will no longer have to apply for a separate work permit before arriving in the U.S. The settlement also reverses a USCIS policy barring H-4 spouses from taking advantage of the automatic extension of their work permits while their separate employment applications were still pending. Those new regulations will remove thousands of work permit applications from the backlog while saving immigrants money, as each work permit application costs $495 per submission. Under the settlement, the government will automatically extend work authorizations for some spouses of H-1B visa holders for up to six months if their visa has not yet expired.

The old policy, which required applications to renew work permits, caused many immigrants to lose their ability to work. In some circumstances, their jobs were no longer available when they were approved for work again. The COVID-19 pandemic partially contributed to the backlog in the system, as immigration offices closed operations, resulting in the cancellation or delay of most visa appointments.