It was recently announced that USCIS will begin granting work authorization to abused H-4 visa holders. 12 years ago, Congress authorized work authorization for abused spouses of H-1B visa holders under the 2005 Violence Against Women Act and on February 14, 2017, USCIS finally announced the implementation of the initiative.
H-4 visas are given to spouses of H-1B visa holders and the new initiative allows H-4 women who are involved in an abusive relationship to apply for work authorization, whether they are still in the home with their abusive spouse, or have fled the abusive relationship all together. Affected women can apply via the new form, I-765V, “Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse”.
Even women who have divorced their abusive spouses can apply for work authorization for up to two years after the divorce has been finalized which is a major victory as typically, H-4 status ends once a divorce is finalized, making the victim undocumented. Victims of abuse can also apply for a U visa, a non-immigrant visa for individuals who have endured significant physical or emotional abuse.
The implementation of this initiative comes as a huge relief for affected women, as most shelters limit women who are fleeing abusive relationships to just three months leaving them with very few options or resources to sustain themselves. While it is noted that work authorization is not a definitive solution or sure-fire path to permanent residency, it does open doors to more permanent opportunities and after the two years is up, has potential for renewal.
As this major move by USCIS is being largely celebrated, there is however, no guarantee that it will continue to be protected under the new Trump administration but nonetheless, high hopes are being held. At a press conference on February 22, co-chair of South Asian Bar Association, Kalpana Peddibhotla stated, ““We urge the Administration to continue taking steps to protect the most vulnerable immigrants in the United States and to empower them to contribute to the economy, rather than implementing counter-productive measures that harm them and do not increase our security”.