Nearly 100,000 people — most of them highly qualified — are out of jobs in the United States because of the Department of Homeland Security dragging its feet on visa and work authorization extension for spouses of H-1B and L1 visa holders, according to a class action lawsuit filed on March 23.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Wasden Banias, LLP have filed the lawsuit against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“More than 91,000 people have lost their jobs because the Department of Homeland Security has not done its job,” alleges the lawsuit. “The agency has stalled processing visa extensions which has in turn killed existing and future work authorizations.
“The victims of the agency inaction are spouses of highly skilled and educated H-1B and L1 visa holders, who themselves are highly educated,” the lawsuit says. “The United States invited them and their spouses to this country and allowed them to work as a way of encouraging their H-1B and L1 spouses to continue providing valuable services to the economy.
“The agency, through its inaction is now motivating these families to leave,” it adds.
The H-4 EAD work authorization is given to certain H-4 or dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders, whereas L-2 visa is also a dependent visa given to the spouse of an L-1 visa holder. Qualified L-2 visa holders can work in the US.
Jesse Bless, AILA’s director of federal litigation, told indica News that the delays were “a big problem.”
Asked how AILA became part of the lawsuit, Bless said that they have been seeing this problem growing for almost a year now and that there have been some individual lawsuits which haven’t brought the broad solution.
“We are hopeful that through this lawsuit and our efforts we can work together,” Bless said. “Our hope is the new administration will look at this with fresh eyes, because it was Trump who really stopped processing these applications.”
The Trump administration wanted to stop H4-EAD and they tried to do it through regulation but failed, Bless pointed out.
Referring to the L-2 visa, he said: “It’s funny; if you read the statute, spouses [of L-1 visa holders] shouldn’t even have to apply for work authorization. They have been caught up in this processing delay so we have included them in the class because it’s such a large problem and affecting them as well.”
He said some of the affected people cannot even renew their driving license.
“We hope this litigation will apply pressure to really address this very quickly and that is our goal. We are not attacking, but trying to amplify and show them just how big this harm is, how many people are getting hurt,” Bless said.
The lawsuit has named 38 petitioners and many of them are waiting for H-4 EAD approval since last year.
One of them, Deepthi Warrier Edakunni, worked as a research assistant. Her EAD expired last October, and she filled the form I-539 for H-4 status and I-765 for EAD. Due to the delay, she has lost her job.
The EAD of another applicant Lavanya Mahadevaiah, a software engineer, expired in November 2020. Even though she applied for renewal in May 2020, she has no proof of legal status and is in jeopardy of losing her job.
The lawsuit has many such examples. Almost all petitioners in the lawsuit are of Indian origin who were invited to the US along with their spouses, and are highly educated.
Jennifer Minear, president of AILA, said in a statement: “The delays that H-4 and L-2 nonimmigrants are facing needlessly place families in financial limbo. DHS has the legal tools and authority to grant work authorization to impacted individuals whose financial security is hanging in the balance, and it should immediately begin to use those tools to provide solutions.
“DHS can and must revoke the unnecessary biometrics requirements for H-4 and L-2 nonimmigrants, provide automatic work authorization while DHS processes EAD renewal requests, and allow EAD applicants to file their renewal applications sooner than 180 days prior to EAD expiration to prevent gaps in work authorization.”
In the financial year 2020, the agency received 24,168 L-2 visa holders’ and 67,960 H-4 EAD applications, according to the lawsuit.
Sharon Rummery, spokesperson, at USCIS told indica News, “As a matter of practice, USCIS doesn’t comment on matters pending litigation.”