A recent policy change from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) automatically authorizes dependent spouses of intracompany transferees to work in the United States.
In March 2022, USCIS announced it had updated its policy manual to reduce the administrative burden for L-2 visa holders – dependent spouses of L-1 intracompany transferees – looking for work. Specifically, L-2 visa holders will no longer have to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD). This will provide L-2 visa holders much easier access to working authorization in the U.S.
Prior to this policy being announced, the process for obtaining work authorization required a dependent spouse to apply for L-2 status upon entry or via a Change of Status application once in the U.S. Once L-2 status was issued, they then had to apply for work authorization. The Change of Status applications from within the U.S. carried a filing fee of approximately US$455 and took several months to process. Work authorization applications carried a filing fee of approximately US$495 and also took several months to process. Processing times increased significantly during COVID-19, leaving dependent spouses waiting more than 12 months to receive work authorization.
USCIS's backlog and the extreme processing times triggered this new policy, which allows automatic work authorization for eligible individuals.
Form I-94 Now Serves as Employment Authorization
I-94s are issued to all aliens entering the U.S. On January 30, 2022, USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection began issuing I-94s to Canadian dependent spouses with a new L-2S class of admission code for L-2 visa holders.
An unexpired I-94 form that includes an L-2S code is now considered evidence of employment authorization for Canadian applicants. This acts as employment authorization in the place of an EAD. In addition, L-2 visa holders who entered the U.S. before January 30 and have an unexpired I-94 form will receive a notice in the mail serving as evidence of employment authorization.
These updates follow a November 2021 USCIS policy announcement confirming that L-2 visa holders would be authorized for employment in the U.S. based on their valid L nonimmigrant status. Also in November, USCIS began automatically extending the EADs of L-2 visa holders if they applied for a renewal before their EAD expired. This measure was also aimed at lightening the administrative burden and the backlog created by COVID-19 closures.
Change Comes as Welcome News for Companies Transferring Employees
For employers looking to transfer senior executives, managers or other professionals to the U.S., the recent policy change from USCIS comes as welcome news. It will make it easier and more cost-effective for spouses of intra-company transferees to work in the States.
These new issuance rules apply to categories of dependent status holders who would have otherwise been entitled to employment authorization under the previous policy guidance (L-2, E-2 and H-4 spouses). L-2 status dependent children are still not entitled to employment authorization. The new code assigned to dependent children for their I-94s is L-2Y, which is not eligible for employment authorization.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.