Spouses of Foreign National Workers Facing Challenges From Visa Backlog

There has been a considerable backlog in processing visas at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. This delay is causing difficulties for the spouses of holders of foreign national work visas who wish to work to provide a second income to help provide for their families. The backlog also jeopardizes the $7.5 billion these people contribute to the economy.

There are two primary reasons for the backlog: COVID-19 restrictions and requirements for H-4 AND L-2 visa applicants. The application for both of these visas permits entry to the United States by the spouses of foreign-national work-visa holders. These applicants are also allowed to apply for employment authorization documents, and if they are given authorization, they may work. Most applicants for L-2 and H-4 visas are highly educated and often work in STEM-related jobs.

The process for obtaining these visas became more complicated during the previous administration. Applicants must agree to biometric screenings, which means they must appear in person. During the appointment, spouses are required to complete forms that ask for their age, date of birth, hair and eye color, gender, and weight. The spouses are also photographed and fingerprinted. The changes the previous administration made to the process have considerably extended the processing time so that it now takes anywhere from 11 months to two years. Also, spouses are not permitted to submit renewal forms more than six months ahead of time. A court settlement has caused these requirements to be suspended until 2024. Additionally, an applicant’s employment authorization can be extended by 180 days if they filed for the extension in a timely manner.

U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross is requesting that the USCIS review primary and dependent applicants together and make a decision on the application within 15 days, as was done before the previous administration. She also would like green card applications to be included. Additionally, Rep. Deborah Ross wants the USCIS to expand premium processing to include more categories, such as L-2 visas, H-4 visas, and EADs. This expansion has been authorized by Congress; however, the USCIS is not yet giving dependents this option. She thinks the USCIS should use the $1,400 in processing fees to cover the cost of operational expenses, and she believes that expanding premium processing to allow employers to ask for their employee’s application to be expedited could be an additional way to raise funds for the additional work.

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