On May 20, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published long-awaited information to help eligible H-4 dependent spouses apply for employment authorization documents (commonly known as “EAD cards”) under the Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses final rule. Under this rule, which goes into effect on May 26, 2015, an H-4 dependent spouse is eligible to apply for an EAD card if the principal H-1B status holder is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition or has already been granted H-1B status under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 (AC21) Sections 106(a) and (b). AC21 permits extensions of H-1B status beyond the usual six-year maximum period when the H-1B holder is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 employment-based immigrant petition or 365 days or more have passed since the filing of an I-140 immigrant visa petition or PERM (ETA Form 9089) labor certification application on behalf of that beneficiary.

The information is available on the following sites:

USCIS confirms that the H-4 dependent spouse still qualifies for employment authorization even if the principal H-1B status holder is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition filed by a previous employer. USCIS also reiterates that eligible H-4 applicants may not apply for employment authorization under this rule until May 26, 2015. Prior to May 26, 2015, USCIS will not accept any Form I-765 applications requesting employment authorization for qualifying H-4 applicants. It is also important to note that an eligible H-4 dependent spouse may not begin working until the I-765 application is approved and the EAD card is in-hand. An EAD card will allow the holder to work for any employer in the United States and to obtain a Social Security number.

This new program is a key element of President Obama's Immigration Accountability Executive Action initiative announced on November 20, 2014. USCIS estimates that the number of individuals eligible to apply for employment authorization under this rule could be as high as 179,600 in the first year and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.