(CNSNews.com) - Plowing ahead with President Obama's executive action on immigration -- days after a federal judge put some of it on hold -- the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday announced that as of May 26, it will begin granting work permits to the spouses of H-1B visa holders -- skilled foreign workers who are seeking permanent resident status in the U.S.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIC), a division of DHS, estimates that as many as 179,000 foreigners will be eligible to apply for employment authorization under the new rule in the first year -- and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is among those who have criticized the "displacement" of American workers by the H-1B guest worker visa program, which allows foreigners with certain expertise (often in high-tech fields) to work temporarily in the U.S. for an employer who is willing to sponsor them.
“Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez said. “It helps U.S. businesses keep their highly skilled workers by increasing the chances these workers will choose to stay in this country during the transition from temporary workers to permanent residents. It also provides more economic stability and better quality of life for the affected families.”
Finalizing the rule that will let both spouses take U.S. jobs is "an important element of the immigration executive actions that President Obama announced in November 2014," DHS said. DHS called it "one of several initiatives underway to modernize, improve and clarify visa programs to grow the U.S. economy and create jobs."
DHS said it expects this executive action -- allowing both foreign spouses to work in the U.S. -- to "reduce the economic burdens and personal stresses H-1B nonimmigrants and their families may experience during the transition to lawful permanent resident status, and facilitate their integration into American society.
"As such, the change should reduce certain disincentives that currently lead H-1B nonimmigrants to abandon efforts to remain in the United States while seeking lawful permanent residence, which will minimize disruptions to U.S. businesses employing them.
DHS said the move "should also support the U.S. economy" because the contributions H-1B visa holders make to entrepreneurship and science help promote economic growth and job creation. The agency noted that the new rule "also will bring U.S. immigration policies more in line with those laws of other countries that compete to attract similar highly skilled workers."
Current law allows H-1B visa holders seeking lawful permanent resident status to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.
Under the rule, eligible H-4 dependent spouses must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with supporting evidence and the required $380 fee in order to obtain employment authorization and receive a Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
"USCIS reminds those potentially eligible that this rule is not considered effective until May 26, 2015," the DHS announcement said.
H-1B visa holders are in the United States legally.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's executive action to give millions of illegal immigrants work permits and Social Security numbers.