After long wait, U.S. moves forward with proposal to end work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders

The rule change would strip the employment authorization from some who are on track for green cards.

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By Chris Fuchs

The spouses of certain U.S. visa holders granted permission to work under an Obama-era rule are now one step closer to seeing that authorization removed.

The proposed regulation was officially delivered to the Office of Management and Budget for review Wednesday, according to a government database, which means the Department of Homeland Security has finished its work on the policy. Changes to the visa program were first discussed in 2017, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson.

The rule change would strip employment authorization from the spouses of H-1B visa recipients who are on track for green cards to work in the United States. The H-1B program attracts foreign specialized workers -- many of them from India and China -- to come to the U.S. for employment.

“The news really is this rule is finally moving forward as a proposal in a formal way,” said William Stock, an immigration lawyer from Philadelphia and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Immigrants at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in Newark, New Jersey.John Moore / Getty Images

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USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins said in a statement to NBC News that the agency continues to review all employment-based visa programs, including employment authorization documents for H-4 visas.

“No decision about the regulation concerning the employment eligibility of certain H-4 spouses is final until the rule-making process is complete,” she said.

Stock said that once the Office of Management and Budget completes its review, the regulation could be sent back to the Department of Homeland Security, or it could be cleared for publication in the Federal Register as a proposed rule.

After that, there’s typically a 30-to-90 day public comment, with 60 days being normal, he said. The comments are reviewed and a final rule is made.

According to the USCIS, there have been close to 91,000 initial approved applications for H-4 work authorization since the original 2015 rule was created by the Obama administration.

Proponents have argued that the rule helps alleviate financial pressures of H-1B families that would otherwise have to manage on a single income, a move that can help retain overseas talent in the U.S.

But it has also drawn criticism, including from Save Jobs USA, a group comprised of laid-off computer workers in California who claim their jobs were filled by programmers from India on H-1B visas.

Save Jobs USA filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 to block the H-4 rule after it was announced. That case has been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“There’s a court deadline, which may be why they’re pushing this forward,” Stock said of the Trump administration’s proposed rule change.

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