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USCIS officially updates work policy for E and L spouses

As part of an agreement reached in a former class-action lawsuit, USCIS is now officially updating its policy to allow the spouses of certain E and L visa holders to be granted employment authorization along with their dependent visas.

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    New work policy changes for dependent E and L visa holders are now official

    The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on March 18th, 2022 that it was updating its policy manual in response to the Shergill v. Mayorkas settlement agreement that allows automatic work authorization for spouses of non-immigrant E and L visa holders. This change would allow non-immigrant spouses on certain E and L visas to legally work in the United States without having to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which could take months to process and leave the spouse unemployed in that time.

    The new changes are now official meaning that dependent E and L visa holders will no longer require an EAD to seek employment in the United States.

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    New visa designations

    As part of the settlement agreement, USCIS started issuing new I-94 designations for E and L spouses in November 2021 that would serve as evidence of work authorization in lieu of an employment permit.

    In January 2022, dependent E and L2 visa holders were given new designations by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection with an “S” (for example, E-1S, E-2S, E-3S, L-2S) next to their class of admission (COA) that would serve as evidence that they were allowed legal employment in the United States.

    Now that the policy is official and work authorization is automatically given with certain E and L dependent visas, all eligible non-immigrant spouses will no longer need to apply for an EAD and can instead rely on designations on their I-94 Forms to prove that they can legally work in the United States.

    Therefore, starting on or around April 1, 2022, USCIS plans to begin mailing new notices with the new spousal designations to qualifying E or L spouses who have unexpired I-94 Forms that were issued before they were given the designations allowing them to work. Dependent spouses will then be able to use these designations as a way to prove their eligibility to lawfully work in the United States.

    Qualifying individuals who have not received their new notices by April 30th, 2022 will need to contact or email USCIS to request a new notice.

    Why USCIS made the changes

    The USCIS has unfortunately been trying to cope with an ever-increasing backlog of immigration-related backlogs ever since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the agency to shut down its operations. As a result, the processing time for visa applications and EADs has doubled or tripled in the length of time, causing many immigrants to be forced out of work while they await approval for their application. It is not estimated that applications for employment authorization can now take as long as 9-12 months to process.

    This long processing time has resulted in many lawsuits being filed against the USCIS for their failure to process applications in a timely matter, including the Shergill v. Mayorkas lawsuit. It is the hope of many that this new policy of granting work authorization with some E and L visas may be one of the many new changes to come that will help to alleviate the backlog.

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