H-4 visa

Upholding the Right to Work: The Ongoing Battle for Spousal Work Permits

In a significant moment for immigration policy and the rights of noncitizens in the United States, two prominent immigration advocacy groups, the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, have stepped forward to support a crucial program that has become a lifeline for the spouses of highly skilled workers. This program, initiated during the Obama administration, allows H-4 visa holders—spouses of H-1B visa recipients—to obtain work permits, thereby acknowledging their valuable contribution to the U.S. economy and society.

The policy, implemented in 2015, was designed to alleviate the burdens faced by families of H-1B visa holders, particularly from countries with high rates of immigration like India and China, where green card backlogs can extend the wait for permanent residency to decades. The ability for these spouses to work is not just a matter of economic necessity but also of personal dignity and integration into the fabric of American life.

However, this program has faced challenges from groups like Save Jobs USA, which argues that these work permits are taking away opportunities from American workers. Despite their efforts, a D.C. federal court upheld the policy, leading to an appeal to the D.C. Circuit by the challengers. They claim that the Department of Homeland Security overstepped its bounds by implementing this policy without explicit congressional approval.

The advocacy groups' amicus brief to the appeals court is a robust defense of the executive branch's long-standing authority to grant work permits to certain noncitizen groups. This practice dates back to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and has been reinforced over the decades through various regulatory interpretations and congressional actions. Specifically, in 1986, Congress clarified that noncitizens could work in the U.S. if authorized by legislation or by the attorney general, effectively endorsing the executive's role in shaping immigration policy within the bounds of the law.

The contention of Save Jobs USA, as articulated by their counsel John Miano, frames the debate as one between democratic governance and bureaucratic overreach. Miano's critique suggests that immigration policy, and by extension, the right to work for noncitizens, should be strictly the domain of elected officials, not "unelected bureaucrats."

This legal battle underscores the complex interplay between immigration law, executive discretion, and the broader implications for families who come to the United States in search of opportunity and stability. As the case progresses through the D.C. Circuit, its outcome could have far-reaching consequences for thousands of families and the principle of executive authority in immigration matters.

For potential clients seeking immigration services, this case highlights the importance of staying informed about the evolving landscape of immigration law and the critical role of experienced immigration attorneys in navigating these changes. Our firm, led by a seasoned immigration attorney and former immigration officer, is dedicated to providing expert guidance and advocacy for those affected by these issues.

In conclusion, the legal struggle over spousal work permits is more than a policy debate; it's about the lives of countless families and the future of America's immigration system. As this case unfolds, it serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for informed, compassionate legal representation in the complex world of immigration law.


"Feds Get Support At DC Circ. To Issue Spousal Work Permits" by Alyssa Aquino, Law360, February 9, 2024.

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