In August, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke at a Center for Immigration Studies event. The controversial think tank advocates for far less immigration being allowed in the U.S. At the event, the director said that a plan to end work authorizations for H-4 visa holders is still being worked on. Previously, the Department of Homeland Security had estimated it would stop offering the work authorizations in June.

H-4 visas are available to dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders. The H-1B visa is an employer-sponsored, non-immigrant visa for workers in specialty occupations, along with distinguished fashion models and people involved in certain projects for the Department of Defense. It is most commonly known for the specialty occupations use.

To qualify for an H-1B “specialty occupations” visa, you must have a job offer from a U.S. company who will certify, among other things, that you will be paid no less than similarly qualified workers or the prevailing wage for the position in the same geographic area. Essentially, the job itself must customarily require a bachelor’s degree or higher as its minimum entry requirement. As an applicant, you must have completed the required degree or its equivalent, hold an unrestricted license or certification, or have qualifying education, training and experience in the specific occupation. Only 65,000 H-1B visas are available each fiscal year.

H-4 visa holders first received work authorizations due to a 2015 Obama-era policy. Under the proposed change, spouses of H-1B workers could only obtain work authorizations once they were approved for green cards — but both H-1B and H-4 visas are non-immigrant visas that do not qualify the holder to apply for a green card.

Practically, the proposed change could hit the Bay Area hard. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 22 percent of all H-4 visas with employment authorizations are found in California. Here in the Bay Area, H-1B visas are at a premium and the cost of living makes it virtually essential for spouses to work.

For now, the future of work authorizations for H-4 visa holders is unclear. A spokesperson for the USCIS told PRI that all employment-based visa programs are currently under review and that no decisions will be finalized until the rulemaking process is complete.

“We will continue adjudicating all petitions, applications and requests fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations,” he added.

If you are an H-4 visa holder, there is no time to wait before applying for a work authorization. To get started, contact Yew Immigration Law Group for experienced assistance.