The spouses of some H-1B visa holders could receive work authorization in the U.S., according to a proposed rule change announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This change, finds its genesis in President Obama’s initiative to strengthen entrepreneurship and retain talent. Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated: “These steps will help the U.S. maintain competitiveness with other countries in our efforts to attract the best and the brightest high-skilled workers from around the world to support companies here at home. Businesses continue to need these high-skilled workers, and these rules ensure we do not cede the upper hand to other countries competing for the same talent.”

The rule change will amend existing regulations to allow H-4 dependent spouses of certain H-1B visaholders to request employment authorization. Under current regulations, DHS does not allow employment authorization to H-4 dependents. The proposed changes allow H-4 dependent spouses of certain H-1B nonimmigrant workers to request employment authorization, as long as the H-1B worker has started the green card process through employment.

The proposed changes address visa rules that have caused difficulties for the spouses of skilled immigrants (mainly from China, India and the Philippines), who are working on H-1B visas. Spouses, mainly wives, often have skills and education, but are not authorized to work in the U.S., causing their careers to languish. The change is important given the backlogs for green cards. Spouses of highly-skilled workers with H-1B visas will now be able to seek employment during long waits.

In addition, and in furtherance of the same policy, another new rule was announced that will expand the current list of evidentiary criteria for employment-based preference (EB-1) outstanding professors and researchers to allow the submission of evidence comparable to the other forms of evidence already listed in the regulations. This new rule harmonizes the regulations for EB-1 outstanding professors and researchers with other employment-based immigrant categories. The two proposed changes are important, but are not a long-term fix. Congress needs to act immediately and to pass legislation to improve the immigration system and to create an unfettered pathway for foreign entrepreneurs and innovators.

For more information about work authorization for H-4 visaholders or about CIR, please feel free to contact the Immigration and Nationality Lawyers at the Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group at or by calling our offices at 201-670-0006 (x107).