A major game changer for US assignments

New legislation in the US now allows ‘dependent spouses of temporary foreign workers in the L and E visa categories’ to more directly enter the job market. However, Permits Foundation’s stateside advocacy work – in the name of dual careers – will continue.

A long time coming

“It was way back in 2000 when our then Director, along with like-minded allies, first engaged with policy shapers on Capitol Hill, including the office of Representative Zoe Lofgren,” says Helen Frew – Director – Permits Foundation. “It was a significant moment when, two years later, legislation was signed off that authorised work access for accompanying spouses of intra-company transferees, treaty traders and investors. Unfortunately the way that the law was interpreted resulted in these spouses having to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before they could work. And as we know, particularly in recent years, processing delays around the EAD have been very problematic.”

Behind the times

Indeed, over the last two decades, the US has fallen behind in terms of enabling partner work access. “Over 30 countries have implemented legislation to allow recognised family members of highly-skilled international employees to work. They almost all administer this directly (incident to status), not just for dependents of intra-corporate transferees but for other categories of international employees,” says Frew. “Moreover, many governments recognise a broad definition of family members who can access work, including same-sex couples, non-married partners and children of working age.”

More positive steps

In recent years, there has been positive momentum in the US in areas where the Foundation, and others, have lobbied. In 2019, plans to rescind work access for certain H4 spouses were dropped. Some measures have been taken to address delays and to facilitate EAD extensions and premium processing. The 2021 litigation that led to direct work access for L and E spouses was a highly significant moment but Frew is quick to stress that Permits Foundation’s advocacy work in the US is far from over: “Most H4 and all O dependents have no work access, some spouses still require an EAD and many have faced uncertainty and long processing delays, even job losses as a result. And at present, only married spouses are recognised. Making a strong, inclusive, evidence based case for change will be key. Moving forward, we will continue to advocate for the recommendations we make in our US position paper, conveying our research findings, engaging at the USCIS, DHS and Congress, and bringing our network together so they can support international dual careers with one voice.”

Global Connection is a proud sponsor of Permits Foundation as we are daily faced with the importance of their work. We are also happy that the majority of our clients are also sponsors.

Photo: Helen Frew

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