Since the publication of our November 12, 2021 alert, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance following the November 10, 2021 settlement agreement and updated the I-9 Handbook providing for automatic extensions of Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards for H-4, L-2, and E-1 Dependent, E-2 Dependent, or E-3 Dependent visa holders. The USCIS policy guidance can be found here.

As described in our previous alert, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) entered into a settlement agreement following a lawsuit brought by H-4 and L-2 spouses suffering from long-delayed adjudication for the processing of applications for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards. Effective November 12, 2021, USCIS allows for automatic extensions of employment authorization, in certain circumstances, while an EAD renewal application has been filed and is pending with USCIS for H-4, L-2, and now E-1/E-2/E-3 dependent (“E dependent”) spouses. In addition, USCIS has now changed its statutory interpretation and will soon afford employment authorization incident to status for L-2 spouses, E-1 Treaty Trader dependent spouses, E-2 Investor dependent spouses, and E-3 specialty occupation professionals from Australia dependent spouses. Once this policy takes effect, L-2 and E dependent spouses will no longer need to apply for an EAD card in order to be authorized to work.

Automatic Extension of EADs for H-4, L-2, and E Dependent Spouses

USCIS has officially issued guidance and updated the I-9 Handbook to provide for automatic extensions of EADs for H-4 and L-2 spouses. In this new policy alert, USCIS is granting these benefits to spouses of E-1 Treaty Traders, E-2 Treaty Investors, and E-3 specialty occupation professionals from Australia in the respective E dependent classification as well.

H-4, L-2, and E dependent spouses will qualify for automatic extension of their valid EAD for 180 days beyond the date of the EAD expiration if the nonimmigrant spouse:

  • Properly files a Form I-765 EAD renewal application to USCIS before the current EAD expires; and
  • Continues to maintain H-4, L-2, or E dependent status beyond the expiration of the existing EAD as evidenced on Form I-94.

The validity of the expired EAD will be extended until the earliest of:

  • 180 days following the EAD expiration;
  • The expiration of the H-4 / L-2 / E dependent nonimmigrant’s I-94 record; or
  • When a final decision is made on the EAD extension application by USCIS.

For I-9 purposes, an H-4, L-2, or E dependent employee may present: a facially expired EAD indicating Category C26, A18, or A17; Form I-797, Notice of Action for Form I-765 with Class requested indicating (c)(26), (a)(18), or (a)(17) and showing that the I-765 EAD renewal application was filed before the EAD expired; and an unexpired I-94, showing valid H-4, L-2, or E dependent nonimmigrant status.

L-2 and E-1/E-2/E-3 Dependent Spouses Will Be Granted Work Authorization Pursuant to Status

USCIS’s new policy guidance provides that both L-2 and E dependent spouses will be employment authorized incident to status, meaning that a separate Form I-765 EAD application will not need to be filed to obtain work authorization, and that the L-2 or E dependent spouse is authorized to work upon being admitted to the United States. USCIS, in cooperation with CBP, will change Form I-94 to indicate the individual is an L-2 spouse so that the I-94 can be used for I-9 purposes. DHS will, within 120 days, take steps to modify Form I-94. However, please note that until USCIS can implement changes to the I-94 to distinguish L-2 and E dependent spouses currently in the U.S. from L-2 and E dependent children, E and L spouses will still need to rely upon an EAD as evidence of employment authorization to present to employers for completion of Form I-9.

Obtaining an Extended I-94

As it is required for H-4, L-2, and E-3 spouses to have a valid I-94 for the automatic extension of the EAD, we are outlining two possible ways that a person applying for an H-4 or L-2 EAD extension can obtain an extended I-94:

  1. File the H-1B or L-1 extension using premium processing and wait for the H-1B or L-1 approval. The H-4 or L-2 spouse then departs the U.S. and obtains a new visa and returns with an extended I-94. Once the spouse returns, he or she will file the EAD extension upon return to the U.S.
  2. File the H-4 or L-2 and EAD extensions with the principal’s H-1B or L-1 extension. After the H-1B or L-1 is approved, the spouse departs the U.S. and obtains a new visa and returns with an extended I-94. The Form I-539, request for extension of status, will be abandoned, but Form I-765 will not and will continue to be processed by USCIS.

Regarding E dependent spouses, anyone entering the U.S. with an E visa is admitted for two years, so he or she may already have an extended I-94 card. If an E dependent spouse has an expiring I-94, he or she can follow one of the above steps to extend their I-94.