A new legal settlement with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will bring relief to nonimmigrant spouses of H and L visa holders in the form of automatic extensions for employment authorizations.
Previously, spouses of these visa holders had to submit applications and request permission to continue working six months before their work authorization expired. But long processing delays of anywhere from one to two years or more resulted in many individuals losing their jobs as they waited for this authorization.
About The USCIS Settlement
The lawsuit, Shergill et al. v. Mayorkas, targeted two USCIS policies that guaranteed E and L visa holders would lose their jobs. The first policy requires spouses of E and L visas to apply for work permits periodically. The second policy denied automatic work permit renewals for these visa holders and spouses of H-1B visa holders.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) filed the case with litigation partners Wasden Banias and Steven Brown. AILA Director Jesse Bless called the lawsuit a “historic change.”
But Jon Wasden of Wasden Banias expressed frustration that the issues had to be solved in court: “[People] were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason … So, while I’m glad the agency finally followed the law, it is frankly frustrating that an easily fixable issue took this long to address.”
Related Litigation And Lawsuits
The Shergill settlement evolved from a class-action lawsuit that is still pending, initially filed in March 2021 by the AILA on behalf of L-2 and H-1B visa spouses and H-4 holders. Spouses of H-1B visa holders whose immigrant petitions are approved become eligible for H-4 Employment Authorization Documents (EADs).
The pending lawsuit seeks to institute broader changes at USCIS and address underlying procedural issues causing the extended processing delays. Though a judge has not yet ruled, the settlement has prompted USCIS to adjudicate all pending employment petitions and suspend its biometric policy for H-4 EADs, which is allegedly responsible for the majority of the delays.
How Spouses Of L And H Visas Will Be Affected
Before the settlement, spouses of L-2 visa holders were required to apply for work reauthorization and an EAD to continue working in the U.S. Spouses of H-1B visa holders were similarly required to renew their employment authorization to remain at their current jobs or continue working in the future.
But USCIS’ policies caused long process delays, up to two years or more in some cases. This delay in work authorization caused many applicants to lose their jobs and made it impossible to gain further employment until their application was approved.
Now, L-2 visa spouses will no longer have to apply for an EAD, and H-4 spouses will receive an automatic 180-day extension if USCIS fails to process an individual’s application promptly.
USCIS Settlement Limitations
As law firms have noted, several limitations to the recent USCIS settlement make it a temporary and imperfect solution.
One of the most significant limitations surrounds the I-94 Form. Nonimmigrants with H-4s who file for an EAD renewal will receive a brief automatic extension until the I-94 expiration date. L-2 visa spouses without an I-94 will still receive an EAD and must still re-file for EADs.
Additionally, though E and L visa spouses no longer need EADs to continue working, this change will not occur until USCIS, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection update their digital systems.
Speaking with an immigration lawyer may be helpful to you or your loved ones going through these processes because they can be tricky to navigate alone. Solano Law Firm assists immigrants and their families with USCIS questions and concerns.