The United States Immigration and Citizenship Services announced a new policy providing automatic extensions for certain employment authorization documents. It is welcome news and will benefit individuals, businesses, and the economy, especially during a critical time where most companies are suffering from severe labor shortages.
You may recall that I’ve reported on processing backlogs over the last year. Employment authorization documents have been one of the items delayed. The result has been that people have been out of work and businesses without employees. Every category of immigrants awaiting work permits has been affected, and the ripple effect has been noticeable.
For example, just two weeks ago, I spoke with the human resources manager of a business with several locations, who expressed how difficult it has been to find staff. She described the stress this has caused on her and her team, working overtime to fulfill customer demands and still not being able to do enough. These are jobs that need physical labor but not an academic degree. I discussed the various visa categories available, and we concluded that there isn’t a suitable visa option for “low-skilled” work. I suggested she reaches out to refugee resettlement organizations. I duly connected her to a relevant person at such an organization. However, we heard back that even if they want to place refugees for such work, refugees are also affected by the EAD delays. I was still taken aback by this news even though I am an immigration attorney who hears and understands such delays.
So, when USCIS announced the news of automatic extensions on May 3, 2022, I was elated, and I couldn’t wait to share the information.
If you are affected, or you are an attorney working with business owners and HR managers, here is the USCIS guidance about proof of work:
- Present acceptable proof of the automatic extension of employment authorization and/or EAD validity.
- Show your Form I-797C receipt notice that refers to the 180-day extension, along with your qualifying EAD (and also your unexpired Form I-94, if you are an H-4, E, or L-2 dependent spouse, including E-1S, E-2S, E-3S, and L-2S class of admission codes). This document combination is sufficient proof of an automatic extension of up to 540 days, counting from the expiration date on your current EAD.
- If you are a renewal applicant and your 180-day automatic extension expired before May 4, 2022, you can still receive the benefit of the temporary increase of the automatic extension period. Your employment authorization and/or EAD validity will automatically resume beginning on May 4, 2022, for any time remaining within the 540-day automatic extension period.
Immigrants eligible for automatic work authorization extension include refugees, asylees, pending asylum seekers, those waiting for green cards through work or family sponsorship, VAWA self-petitioners, TPS applicants, etc. You can find the complete list here.
Spouses of H-1B, L-1, and E-2 visas will also receive an extension. E-2 and L-2 visa holders have started to obtain work authorization incident to status; therefore, not everyone in these categories will need automatic extensions. But H-4 visa holders may not be as lucky because they must show an ‘unexpired I-94’ document. The I-94 extension is filed together with the EAD extension. Both are currently delayed. Until premium processing starts for such categories, the H-4 visa holder will still have to be unemployed. Premium processing has been promised, though. In due course, one can file to expedite the H-4 visa status, receive an unexpired I-94, and take advantage of the automatic EAD extension policy.
Automatic EAD extension for a substantial time is a good interim solution, and I commend USCIS for this action. It is for the greater good of all — individuals, businesses, consumers, and the economy.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.