In a new move that will be welcomed by Indian emigrants to the US, the Obama administration has made it easier for spouses of certain high-tech foreign workers – or holders of H-1B visas – to apply for work permits, making it easier for them to obtain the much-sought 'Green Card'.
The new regulation will take effect starting 26 May. It was first proposed last year and finalised as part of President Barack Obama's package of executive actions on immigration.
The new move comes even as Republican lawmakers are fighting the president on earlier actions regarding undocumented immigrants.
The presidential action allows work permits and longer stays for some spouses of those in the US legally with H-1B visas, Leon Rodriguez, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters on Tuesday in Washington.
"The inability of those spouses until now to apply for employment, to seek and obtain employment, has imposed in many cases significant hardships on the families of H-1B visa holders," Rodriguez said.
The change could apply to more than 179,000 people in the next year, and 55,000 in subsequent years, Rodriguez said.
Australia and Canada have made similar offers to spouses of temporary high-skilled workers in recent years.
The regulation change was one of a half-dozen tweaks that Obama announced in November to address concerns by technology companies that have pushed to lift the cap on H-1B visas and speed up the process for green cards.
The USCIS is trying to move as quickly as possible on the other measures, Rodriguez said, declining to offer a more specific timeline.
The citizenship agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which faces a partial shutdown after Friday if Congress doesn't approve a funding bill. Republicans in Congress have threatened to withhold money for the agency if President Barack Obama's November actions easing deportations for about five million undocumented immigrants aren't overturned.
Obama is also fighting a ruling by a Texas judge that temporarily blocked some of his executive actions.
''The administration remains confident that executive actions that the president took are fully within his authority under the law and we expect to prevail in the courts,'' said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House domestic policy council, on a call with reporters.
Obama will travel to Miami on Wednesday to discuss immigration during a televised town hall at Florida International University. He'll talk about his executive actions, his call for Congress to overhaul immigration laws and the debate over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, said Munoz.
Under current rules, spouses of H-1B visa holders can stay in the US, but cannot seek employment there.