H-4 visa holders seeking to obtain or renew their ability to work in the U.S. are facing a possible spike in delays of their application being approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“We used to see applications getting approved in 15 days. Now it is taking at least 90 days and many times even longer,” Rashi Bhatnagar, founder of the Facebook group ‘H-4 visa, a curse’,” told India-West.

The Trump administration has held the sword of Damocles over the head of H-4 visa holders for more than a year, threatening to terminate the program which allows certain H-4 visa holders to work in the U.S. The White House was expected to issue a final decision on the program in February, but has delayed the issue to June (see India-West story here).

Many members of the group, which is followed by about 22,000 people – primarily women from India – have said they are receiving a “Request For Evidence,” a letter from USCIS asking for additional documentation to support the application. “Our membership is very worried about the delays in processing,” she said, noting that an H-4 visa holder can only apply for a renewal once there are less than 180 days remaining on her work authorization.

Unlike an H-1B visa holder, who can work for 200 days after the work authorization has expired while waiting for a renewal, H-4 visa holders must quit their jobs once their work authorization is expired, even if they have an application being processed, explained Bhatnagar.

Jansi Kumar, one of the founders of the organization Save H-4 EAD, told India-West she has seen a surge of RFEs for H-1B renewals. H-4 visas are allotted to the spouses of H-1B visa holders; since 2015, work authorization has been allowed for H-4 visa holders whose spouses have an approved I-140, an application for legal permanent residency.

Kumar said she has recently seen cases of H-1B visa holders with approved I-140s, whose extension application was rejected. “All of a sudden, they had to pack up and leave, after so many years of living here,” she told India-West.

H-1B holders have to live and work in the U.S. for at least six years before they can file an I-140 application.

Normal processing times for H-4 EADS was previously 60 to 90 days, said Kumar, adding that now, some processing centers are experiencing delays of five to six months.

USCIS spokeswoman Sharon Rummery told India-West she has seen no difference in wait-times for H-4 EAD applications since the advent of the new administration. “Six months is our target for processing any application,” she said, noting that if the agency were to create new policy that required extra scrutiny of H-4 EAD applications, it would alert the public with a bulletin, as it previously did with the new mandate in February which dictates extra scrutiny of H-1B renewals.

For Shilpa Patil, a dentist from Mumbai who holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas, the delay in processing her H-4 EAD renewal cost her a job at the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Patil, a dentist from Mumbai, came to the U.S. with her husband Rohan in 2012, on an H-4 visa. Rohan, who had previously worked in the U.S., received an extension on his former H-1B visa, which quickly made the couple eligible to file for legal permanent residency.

Patil first applied for work authorization in September 2015, and was granted EAD in 15 days. She did not work, however, as the couple also had a new baby.

In September 2017, Patil applied for a renewal of her work authorization. She received a notice that her application had been received, but no further updates on the status of her application.

In January, Patil interviewed with the MD Anderson Cancer Center and received a job offer. “Initially, they wanted me to join on Feb. 19, but they pushed it out for me to March 5, as we were still waiting for my EAD approval,” she said.

The couple moved from Dallas to Houston so that Patil could be closer to her new job. But her renewal application remained pending.

The frustrated pair went to the office of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whose staffers immediately took up the issue and contacted USCIS. Days later, Patil received an RFE, asking for proof of her marriage.

She filed the additional paperwork, and on March 8 received a notice that her application would be approved within the next 14 days. But that same day, the MD Anderson Cancer Center rescinded their offer. “Last week was so difficult for me. I was finally going to be able to work after six years. But it was taken away from me,” Patil told India-West.

If she does receive her EAD renewal at the end of March, it will be useless, said her husband, noting that Patil’s application for a renewal of her H-4 visa is also facing extraordinary delays.

“I have specialized skills that this country needs,” said Rohan, adding: “In my organization, only five people can do what I do.”

“Both of us hold masters’ degrees from top universities. If we are not qualified to work in the U.S., who is?” he stated.

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