The Trump administration is deliberately slowing down its processing of work permit applications for the spouses of certain H-1B workers, a new lawsuit says.
The case, filed June 6 in federal district court in Washington, says what had formerly been a relatively quick process for getting a work permit approved now is taking several months. In fact, the H-1B applicants themselves are getting their specialty occupation visa extensions filed in much less time than it’s taking their spouses to get approved for their visas and work permits, according to the complaint.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been saying for years that it wants to end the program, which provides work permits—also known as employment authorization documents (EADs)—to the H-4 spouses of H-1B workers who are waiting for their approved green cards to become available.
The agency first indicated its intent to undo the Obama-era program in April 2017, but the regulations to do so have run into delays, including a point at which the agency had to redo its economic analysis.
A proposed regulation has been under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget since February.
The USCIS is continuing to review all employment-based visa programs, including H-4 EADs, an agency spokesman said June 7. No final decision will be made about the program until after the rulemaking process is completed, he said.
But it appears that, in the absence of regulations to undo the program, the USCIS may be taking the alternative route of sitting on work permit applications for long periods of time. As a result, H-4 visa holders’ current permits are expiring, and they’re in danger of losing their jobs, their health insurance, and their careers, the lawsuit says.
The delays are “a growing problem,” said Fairfax Station, Va., attorney Jonathan Wasden, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of four H-4 spouses. “The agency is intentionally screwing these people over.”
The USCIS spokesman declined to comment specifically on the case, saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the validity of the work permit program remains pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The case, which had been on hold after the USCIS said it was planning to rescind the program, was reopened last December.
The U.S.-born tech workers who brought the lawsuit say the program is costing them job opportunities, and wasn’t within the agency’s authority to create.
The USCIS’s delay in getting out the proposed regulations and its response to the lawsuit are evidence that there’s internal agency conflict about what to do with the program, said John Miano of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, who is representing the workers in that case. “On one hand, the deep state wants to preserve the H-4 EADs. On the other hand, the deep state does not want a decision in the Save Jobs USA case,” he said.
Steven A. Brown of Reddy & Neumann in Houston also is representing the H-4 work permit applicants.
The case is Gudla v. Koumans, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-01667, complaint filed 6/6/19.
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(Updated to include comment from the USCIS.)