U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced Tuesday, February 24th that spouses of certain H-1B workers will be eligible to apply for employment authorization effective May 26, 2015. Those eligible are spouses of H-1B workers who are pursuing U.S. permanent resident status based on employment and:

  1. are principal beneficiaries of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, I-140; or
  2. have been granted H-1B extensions beyond the maximum six-year period allowed because a labor certification application or an I-140 was filed for them at least 365 days before they will have exhausted their sixth year stay in H-1B status.

H-1B employees are permitted to work in the U.S. generally for a maximum of six years. If they seek employment-based lawful permanent resident status and certain criteria are met, however, the six years can be extended.  When H-1B workers become eligible for permanent resident status so do their spouses, allowing the spouses to obtain employment authorization, but that can take several years because of per-country limitations on the number of new permanent residents allowed each year.

The change is expected to reduce economic burdens on H-1B workers and their families as well as help U.S. businesses retain skilled workers who might have otherwise been discouraged to stay in the U.S. as a result of the long wait. Eligible spouses can submit their applications for employment authorization on Form I-765 to USCIS beginning on May 26, 2015.

Employers should expect to receive questions from their H-1B workers about this development. They should also expect increased requests for sponsorship from those who have not yet started the permanent residence process.