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H-4 EAD Spouses: Time to Look at Options

The H-4 Employment Authorization Program was always limited to a small fraction of H-4 spouses; however, the Trump administration now aims to eliminate the program entirely. There has been no specific announcement about what will happen to those with current work authorization if, as is expected, the government is successful. But this administration does have a pattern of retroactively disadvantaging immigrants. Examples include a program looking to revoke the citizenship of naturalized Americans on the basis of their records prior to their naturalization date; and a new policy establishing a beginning date for unlawful presence that precedes the immigrant’s knowledge of the problem. So, it would not be out of character for the government to end all H-4 work authorization with the end of the program, expected this summer.

H-4 spouses with current employment authorization may file for extension 180 days before expiration, and will benefit if there is no retroactive cancellation. Otherwise, with H-1B season just beginning, these individuals may want to seek H-1B employment themselves if qualified. Of course, there are other nonimmigrant working visas an H-4 spouse may seek independently to gain work authorization. In some cases, it may be feasible for the H-1B holder him or herself to change status to one that allows his/her spouse to work: J-1, O-1, L-1A; and for countries that have the required agreement with the U.S., E-1, E-2 or, for Australians, E-3.

Sometimes, however, unemployment can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Entering F-1 status and going back to school may open new opportunities including CPT or OPT. Remaining in H-4 does allow for voluntary activities, including with a professional society for networking and career preparation; with an arts organization for free admissions and social contact; or with any service or non-profit organization to develop skills traditionally held by volunteers there. There are even ways of generating income through the stock market or day trading. Though all these activities have restrictions, with the help of a qualified immigration attorney it may be possible to use a period of unemployment to hit the ground running in the next phase.

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