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New Laws Give Spouses of Alien L and E Visa Holders the Right to Work in the U.S.



February 20, 2002

Although the events of September 11, 2001, and the Enron scandal may have created a climate of public opinion hostile both to aliens and to large corporations, Congress, nonetheless, has enacted a surprisingly sensible law that eases the prerequisites for certain international companies seeking to temporarily transfer certain foreign employees to the United States, and provides spouses of these employees the right to work. In addition, Congress passed another bill that allows the spouses of aliens holding E-1 or E-2 (Treaty Trader/Treaty Investor) visas also to hold jobs in the United States. President Bush signed both bills, HR 2277 and HR 2278, into law on January 16, 2002.

HR 2277 provides work authorization to the spouses of E visa holders. E visas are granted to traders and investors from countries that have the requisite treaties with the United States. Prior to passage of this bill, the spouses of these Treaty Traders/Treaty Investors were allowed to accompany the visa holder for the length of their status, but they were not allowed to work here. Spouses with their own careers were thus forced to put those careers on hold in order to accompany their alien spouse to the United States.

HR 2278 provides the same work benefits to the spouses of L visa holders. L visas are granted to transferee executives, managers, and certain employees with specialized skills of international companies. The law also eases the prerequisites for some companies qualifying their employees for an L visa. Prior to this law, a prospective candidate for the L visa had to hold the requisite position with a foreign affiliate outside of the United States for at least one continuous year during the three years prior to qualifying for the visa. The new law reduces this foreign employment requirement to six months of continuous employment, provided the prospective employer has filed a “blanket” petition and met the requirements for expedited processing of aliens under such a petition.

These two laws were adopted in response to the problem faced by international companies in finding foreign employees willing to transfer to the United States. The fact that spouses were not permitted to work was believed to discourage employees from accepting a transfer to the United States. It is anticipated that removing the ban will solve this problem.

Unfortunately, even though the laws have been passed, there are no implementing regulations that provide for work authorization for the spouses of E and L visa holders. At least one service center, the Vermont Service Center, has announced that it will accept employment applications filed on Form I-765 for L-1 spouses under their jurisdiction. It will also accept these forms for E-1 and E-2 spouses in their jurisdiction that are filed independently from the E petition for their spouses. Concurrently filed petitions for E visas and spousal work permits must be filed with the Texas Service Center for those that fall under the jurisdiction of the Vermont Service Center. However, until the regulations are in place, such applications will not be processed for approval.