The Biden administration settled in a class action lawsuit Wednesday that will make it easier for visa-free immigrant spouses to continue working in the US without having to renew their employment authorization.
The settlement, reached in a lawsuit filed 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 facing long delays. to receive their visas. employment authorizations due to a delay in the system.
Specifically, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will grant L-2 spouses an automatic work authorization, which means that they will no longer have to apply for a separate work permit before arriving in the USA
The settlement also reverses a USCIC policy that prohibits H-4 spouses from taking advantage of the automatic extension of their work permits while their separate job applications are 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 to file, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, under the agreement, 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, according to the Journal.
The old policy, which required applications to renew work permits, caused tens of thousands of immigrants to lose their ability to work, the Journal noted, and in some circumstances, their jobs were no longer available when they were able to return to work.
The COVID-19 pandemic partially contributed to the delay in the system, as immigration offices closed their operations and resulted in the cancellation of most visa appointments, the Journal reported.
However, a policy change implemented during the Trump administration exacerbated the circumstances. It required spouses of immigrants to submit new fingerprint samples with their renewal applications, adding one more step to the process, according to the Journal.
In May, the government rejected the fingerprint requirement, although that measure reportedly did not help reduce the processing delay.
Jesse Bless, AILA’s director of federal litigation, said in a statement that the agreement marks “a landmark change for L-2 spouses who will now enjoy work authorization incidental to the state, meaning these executive and manager spouses will no longer have to apply for employment authorization before working in the U.S”.
Jon Wasden, one of AILA’s litigation partners, said that while he applauds the settlement and the new policy, “it’s downright frustrating that an easily solvable problem has taken so long to fix.”
“The people were suffering. They were losing their well-paying jobs for no legitimate reason that would cause harm to them and to US businesses, ”he added in a statement.
The Hill reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment.