After months of speculation and discussion, USCIS has taken the initial steps in the rulemaking process in order to take away the H-4 EAD work authorization for certain H-4 spouses which had been available since 2015. It should be noted that this is an initial step in the rulemaking process and until and unless a new rule is finalized and effective, H-4 EADs remain available and valid.
The Rulemaking Notice
The notice, published December 14, 2017, states that it is reviewing the 2015 H-4 EAD rule in light of President Trump’s Executive Order 13788, Buy American and Hire American.
DHS is publishing this notice of proposed rulemaking to amend that 2015 final rule. DHS is proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorization.
Timeline of Regulatory Process
It should be noted that this is just the initial statement of proposed rulemaking. This means that the current H-4 EAD rule remains valid and H-4 EADs continue to be available for application and approval by USCIS. Our office continues to handle many H-4 EADs and we urge applicants who may be in the process of applying for H-4 EAD to consider doing so as soon as possible before the new possible rule goes through the rulemaking process.
In terms of timeline, a rulemaking process generally takes at least several months. USCIS is indicating that they are preparing to publish a proposed H-4 revocation rule in early 2018. Once a proposed rule is published, it is subject to a public comment period which is then followed by a period of review and possible revision. Then, a final rule is published with certain effective date in the future. At this time, the timeline for the enactment of this possible H-4 EAD revocation rule remains unclear but we expect that, barring unforeseen developments, the H-4 EAD program may be valid in its current state for another several months.
Prompt H-4 First-Time Applications and Renewals Encouraged
One of the major questions we hear is, “If the H-4 EAD regulations are amended to take away the H-4 EAD, would current H-4 EADs remain valid for their remaining term or they will be invalidated automatically?”
At this time, based on what we have seen in the past with other similar rules, our expectation is that even if the H-4 EAD work permit is taken away, existing H-4 EAD will continue to be valid for their remaining validity term. We will certainly provide updates through our website and newsletter if we hear otherwise; and based on this assumption, we suggest H-4 spouses who consider getting an H-4 EAD work permit (initial, or extension) to do so as soon as possible and to seek the maximum available validity (which is based off on the H-1B spouse’s validity term).
Note that an H-4 EAD renewal application can be filed up to 180 days prior to the EAD validity expiration. Similarly, an H-1B extension (together with H-4 and H-4 EAD) can be filed up to 180 days prior to the H-1B petition expiration.
H-4 EAD Alternatives
At the same time, we urge our H-4 EAD clients and readers (both employers and employees) to plan carefully and consider alternatives to the H-4 EAD work permit for themselves or for their employees.
Among the more common alternatives which may permit employment authorization are H-1B, F-1 OPT/CPT, TN, E or O visas. Please see our article on H-1B cap alternatives – while it was authored in the context of alternatives to the H-1B cap lottery, it provides a useful overview of available H-4 EAD work authorization options as well.
Conclusion: Monitor Future Developments and Plan Carefully
Our office has been handling many H-4 EAD cases and we have been monitoring H-4 EAD developments very closely over the last few months and this proposed rulemaking notice is the first concrete step we have seen by USCIS in their efforts to reverse the H-4 EAD rule.
Our office will continue to monitor developments relating to the H-4 EAD program. In the meantime, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help with any H-4 EAD or any of the alternative options, please feel free to contact us.