MUMBAI: The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has in a court filing, with a US district court, stated its plan to suspend biometric requirements for H-4 and L-2 visa holders who are seeking work permits. This suspension is expected to speed up the processing of applications.
Spouses of H-1B visa holders hold an H-4 dependent visa whereas spouses of those on an intra-company transfer – L1 visa holders, hold an L-2 visa. While spouses of those on intra-company transfers are authorised to seek employment, only those spouses of H-1B visa holders who are on track for a green card are eligible to work. Delays in the processing of work authorisation applications impact both groups adversely.
To illustrate the challenge: An extension for the H-4 visa and work authorisation renewal cannot be done earlier than six months before the expiry of the visa status. There is no automatic extension of the work authorisation document and processing delays have led to the loss of jobs for several H-4 visa holders.
The inordinate delays, resulting in economic hardship, led to a class-action suit being filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Various companies and chambers of commerce such as FWD.us, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Twitter, have supported this lawsuit by filing an amicus brief.
“The unjustified processing delays addressed by this litigation are freezing thousands of employees out of their employment. This is to the grave detriment of the tens of thousands of families across the country that rely upon the continued employment of H-4 and L-2 visa holders. The delays likewise enormously disrupt the numerous employers (including many amici) that depend on the irreplaceable talents and knowledge of their H-4 and L-2 employees,” states the brief.
More than 90% of employment authorisation documents (EADs) as the work authorisation permits are technically referred to are held by Indian spouses. The last official figures released at the end of 2017 peg it at 84,360 but the number is now estimated to be much higher.
Thus, the Indian diaspora has been the most impacted by the delays especially as major decisions such as investment in a house, or funding higher education, are made based on the surety of a second income.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs took to social media to report on the developments relating to the suspension of the biometric requirement. According to the law firm of Wasden Banias, “This is a necessary first step to resorting sanity to the H4-EAD and L2-EAD adjudication times.” Steven Brown, an immigration attorney at Reddy & Neumann stated, “This is a good first step for these unnecessary delays, but more work still remains. USCIS noted that there is a backlog of 57,500 EADs for H-4 and L-2 applicants. We continue to fight to clear that backlog and put the agency back on track to reasonable adjudication timelines.”
An official announcement has not yet been made by USCIS but it is expected that the suspension will apply if EAD applications are pending on May 17, 2021, and the applicants have not yet received a biometric appointment notice. The suspension will also apply for applications filed on or after this day, through May 23, 2022.
When the lawsuit was filed, Jesse Bless, AILA’s Director of Federal Litigation, had said, “In 2019, the Trump administration implemented a new biometrics requirement for H-4 and L-2 and other dependents seeking to extend their stay in the US. These new requirements added to the already extraordinary processing delays—delays that COVID-19 restrictions further exacerbated. The process to attain work authorization should not put families at risk of immense loss of income and instability…”