On November 11, 2021 American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and its litigation partners Wasden Banias and Steven Brown, announce the historic settlement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas, which provides structural changes for nonimmigrant H-4 and L-2 spouses suffering from long delayed processing times for the processing of applications for employment authorization. The litigation successfully achieved the reversal of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy that prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from automatic extension of their employment authorization during the pendency of standalone employment authorization document (EAD) applications. Although this is a giant achievement, the parties’ agreement will further result in a massive change in position for USCIS, which now recognizes that L-2 spouses enjoy automatic work authorization incident to status, meaning these spouses of executive and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorization prior to working in the United States.
In short, these structural changes for H-4 and L-2 spouses suffering from long delayed processing times for the processing of applications for employment authorization are as follows:
For H-4s: Within 120 days of the Effective Date, USCIS will amend the receipt notice currently issued to applicants to detail the EAD auto-extension eligibility for those holding H-4 status based on the validity period provided on a Form I-94 in combination with a facially expired EAD and the Form I-797C receipt notice for a timely-filed I-765 EAD renewal application.
For L-2s: USCIS will issue policy guidance that states that L-2 spouses are employment authorized incident to status and, in cooperation with CBP, change the Form I-94, within 120 days of the Effective Date, to indicate that the bearer is an L-2 spouse so that it can be used as a List C document for Form I-9 purposes.
In connection with this, today, November 12, 2021, USCIS issued updated policy guidance to address automatic extension of employment authorization for certain H-4, E, and L nonimmigrant dependent spouses. USCIS is updating its interpretation and implementation of 8 CFR 274a.13(d) to provide that certain H-4, E, or L dependent spouses will qualify for the automatic extension provided under this regulatory provision if certain conditions are met. Guidance is effective 11/12/21 and comments are due by 12/13/21.
Simultaneously, USCIS is rescinding the 2002 Legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service memorandum entitled, “Guidance on Employment Authorization for E and L Nonimmigrant Spouses, and for Determinations on the Requisite Employment Abroad for L Blanket Petition” (2002 INS memorandum).
This policy guidance, contained in Volume 10 of the Policy Manual, is effective immediately and provides:
- certain H-4, E, or L dependent spouses qualify for automatic extension of their existing employment authorization and accompanying EAD if they properly filed an application to renew their H-4, E, or L-based EAD before it expires, and they have an unexpired Form I-94 showing their status as an H-4, E, or L nonimmigrant, as applicable.
- the automatic extension of the EAD will continue until the earlier of: the end date on Form I-94 showing valid status, the approval or denial of the EAD renewal application, or 180 days from the date of expiration of the previous EAD.
- the following combination of documents evidence the automatic extension of the previous EAD, and are acceptable to present to employers for Form I-9 purposes: Form I-94 indicating the unexpired nonimmigrant status (H-4, E, or L), Form I-797C for a timely-filed EAD renewal application (Form I-765) stating “Class requested” as “(a)(17),” “(a)(18),” or “(c)(26),” and the facially expired EAD issued under the same category (that is, indicating Category A17, A18, or C26).
- E and L dependent spouses are employment authorized incident to their status and therefore they are no longer required to request employment authorization by filing Form I-765 but may continue to file Form I-765 if they choose to receive an EAD. (Until such time as USCIS can implement changes to the I-94 to distinguish E and L spouses from E and L children, E and L spouses will still need to rely upon an EAD as evidence of employment authorization to present to employers for completion of Form I-9. Until the notation on Form I-94 issued to E and L dependent nonimmigrants is revised, Form I-94 solely indicating E or L nonimmigrant status is insufficient evidence of employment authorization under List C of Form I-9.)
It is anticipated that USCIS will issue additional guidance as further steps to implement the terms of the settlement are undertaken, however, it clear that USCIS intends for H-4 dependents who are in the process of their H-4 EAD documents and meet the criteria above are eligible to immediately benefit from the automatic extension provision. We will continue to update you as information becomes available.
Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or firstname.lastname@example.org.