Many families in the U.S. on H-1B visas are still struggling due to processing delays by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This delay has particularly affected processing for H-4 visa holders struggling to acquire work permits. In addition, many spouses of H-1B visa holders have existing careers, but to continue them in the U.S., they need to receive employment authorization documents (EAD).
For H-4 visa holders to acquire an EAD, the rules state that they must receive an appointment for a biometric examination. However, since the pandemic began, these appointments have become extremely difficult to acquire. Starting in 2020, the application service centers that perform these appointments closed for four months due to COVID-19. Once they returned to providing services, they still operated at a reduced capacity for safety reasons.
The significant backlog of appointments from the period in which the service centers were closed and the reduced operational capacity created a considerable challenge for not only initial applications for EAD but also for H-4 extensions.
The increase in automatic extension period of additional 360 days mitigates these challenges, though this is not a complete solution. In addition, the increase in automatic extensions only benefits those already holding H-4 status and an existing EAD past its expiration date. Therefore, for those filing for the first time, attempting to change their current status, and those with a pending extension, this does not offer any assistance. However, eliminating the biometric appointment requirements for those applying for an extension has also helped some of these applicants.
Unfortunately, this has still left many H-4 spouses waiting through delays of six or more months for H-4 visa and extension applications to be processed. These delays have led to many individuals suffering from a loss of employment, health insurance, and more. Such losses can devastate households relying on this source of income.
One strategy that H-4 visa holders have used to address these massive delays is filing lawsuits against the USCIS. However, this can be challenging and attempted after waiting through a significant delay. Resorting to lawsuits should not be considered a means of premium processing. It is only to help applicants suffering from severe delays that have resulted in lost employment and opportunities.
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