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H-4 visa holders sue the US government for delaying their work applications

By Ananya Bhattacharya

H-4 visa-holders are fed up with the US government.

A lawsuit filed in a US district court by four H-4 employment authorisation document (EAD) applicants on June 6 alleges that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is trying to “unlawfully delay the adjudication of non-immigrant visa benefits.”

The Donald Trump administration has long been threatening to shut the H-4 EAD programme, which allows spouses of H-1B workers awaiting green cards to work. The office of management and budget (OMB) at the White House has been reviewing the proposed revocation since February.

So far, H-4 visa and H-4 EAD applications filed alongside H-1B applications under premium processing were sanctioned or rejected within the stipulated 15-day period. However, on March 11, USCIS said people looking to extend their H-4 EAD will be required to show up for fingerprinting, lengthening approval times.

“Sometime after March 22, 2019, on information and belief, USCIS changed their internal policy of adjudicating H-4 and H-4 EAD applications concurrently with premium processing H-1B petitions and would now begin processing such cases in regular processing separate from the H-1B,” the lawsuit says.

“We argue that it takes USCIS adjudicators an average of merely 24 minutes to process Form I-539 and 12 minutes to process Form I-765, yet it takes USCIS up to 8.5 months to adjudicate these applications according to current processing times,” Reddy & Neumann, the law firm representing the four plaintiffs, wrote in a post dated June 7.

The California and Nebraska service centres both said H-4s were not being adjudicated under premium processing and the Vermont service centre says it can take between 10 and 13 months, Rahul Reddy of Reddy & Neumann said in a YouTube live chat on May 21.

The delays could result in H-4 visa-holders losing out on jobs, health insurance, and even drivers’ licences, according to the lawsuit. It would also temporarily force thousands of highly qualified women to sit idle, increasing their financial and emotional burdens, pushing them back into a time before the Obama-era rule came into play.

In the event the H-4 EAD is revoked, Indian women will get the shortest end of the stick. A majority of the over 100,000 H-4 visas issued in total have gone to Indians and nine in 10 to women.