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There is a growing fear among spouses of H-1B workers that delays in obtaining work permit cards (technically referred to as employment authorisation documents or EADs) will result in job terminations.
The financial crunch faced by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the immigration arm of the Trump administration, has severely impacted printing of these cards.
An announcement by the Ombudsman’s office indicates that the prognosis for the future isn’t good, as this delay is likely to continue or even worsen.
According to US based immigration attorneys, a class-action suit has been filed in Ohio’s federal court, by an Indian citizen, who owing to the delay in obtaining the work permit card, lost her job. The coming days may see a growing list of plaintiffs who are also suffering because of the printing delays, they add.
If the principal H-1B holder is on track for a green card, the spouse who is on an H-4 (which is dependant visa) can apply for a work permit. The EAD, which is to be renewed periodically, entitles the spouse to seek employment or be self-employed. Mere approval of the EAD or approval of the extension is not adequate for the employer to determine work eligibility, thus proof of a valid EAD card is a must.
Indians will be disproportionately impacted, as nearly a lakh Indian spouses, largely women, hold EADs. “One can apply for an EAD extension, 180 days before the expiry of the current card. Typically, it takes USCIS up to 90 days to process the application. Earlier once the approval was given, the work permit card was issued within days,” says an HR specialist – her EAD is currently valid for the next two-odd months and she is on tenterhooks.
On July 21, the Ombudsman’s office announced, “In June, USCIS reduced its capacity to print secure documents, such as Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) Cards and EADs, after it ended a contract with an outside company responsible for printing these cards. According to USCIS, it intended to hire federal employees to replace the contractors; however, its financial situation resulted in a hiring freeze that has impacted the printing of these secure cards.”
The Ombudsman’s office, which was set up in 2002, helps individuals and employers who need to resolve a problem with the USCIS. Its scope also includes making recommendations to fix systemic problems and improve the quality of services provided by USCIS.
“The Ombudsman’s office is assisting individuals whose applications have been approved but whose cards have not yet been produced by sending weekly spreadsheets to USCIS to verify card requests are in line to be processed. Individuals experiencing a delay in receiving their documents can submit a request a case assistance with the Ombudsman,” states the official announcement.
However, it adds that should there be a furlough of USCIS employees on August 3, 2020, card production backlogs will likely increase. US media has estimated the printing backlog, which is pegged at 50,000 green cards and 75,000 EADs. The latter are allotted not just to H-4 visa holders but also to certain other categories.
Even green card holders are facing problems. Most green cards are valid for ten years and are subject to period re-issue with updated photographs and biometrics. Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) aka green card holders are required to carry their cards on them.
The Ombudsman’s office has suggested that “LPRs may obtain proof of their status by requesting a stamp of temporary evidence in a valid passport at a local USCIS field office.”