US: Spouses of some H-1B visa holders to be allowed to work

Spouses of H-1B visa holders being sponsored for a green card by their employers will be allowed to work in the U.S. as part of a new initiative by the Obama administration to attract high-skilled foreign workers.

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker are to jointly announce Tuesday that the administration plans this and other revisions to regulations for the H-1B and other skilled-worker visas.

A senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because it was before the official announcement, said that the goal is “to encourage highly skilled individuals to work and remain in the U.S., maintaining competitiveness with other countries also in the market for them.”

The rules, which will be published soon in the Federal Register, are expected to go into effect after a 60-day public-comment period.

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Under existing regulations, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t extend employment authorization to dependents of H-1B visa holders, who normally have specialized skills in engineering, programming and other high-tech fields.

The decision stops short of giving spouses of all H-1B visa holders blanket approval to work in the U.S. Spouses would become eligible only after the visa holder’s company has petitioned for an immigrant visa for the foreign employee, putting the employee on track for legal permanent residency, known as a green card. Lawful permanent residents generally qualify to become U.S. citizens after five years.

“Allowing H-1B spouses to work would be an important change. Sometimes people aren’t willing to come to the U.S. if their spouse can’t work,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School.

Another revision expected to be announced will ease requirements for applicants of an EB-1 work visa, which is issued to researchers and professors with extraordinary ability. To qualify, applicants for the visas currently must submit awards, scholarly articles and a host of evidence to prove their outstanding recognition in and contribution to a particular field. The new rule will allow applicants to present comparable evidence that is acceptable, the official said.

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“These individuals are American families in waiting,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said. “Many tire of waiting for green cards and leave the country to work for our competition. The fact is we have to do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States and these regulations put us on a path to do that.”