The United States government will automatically extend work authorisation for the spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders, The Economic Times reported on Thursday.

H-1B visas allow US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The immediate family members of such workers are given H4 visas. More than 90% of H4 visa candidates are Indian women, according to The Economic Times.

L-1 visas, on the other hand, are for those on intra-company transfers. Their spouses are issued L-2 visas.

In March, 15 litigants, including 13 Indian nationals, had challenged an immigration policy that did not allow the spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders to work in the US till they had a permit, The Economic Times reported.

Even those who held permits were not able to renew their employment status because of the backlog created by the coronavirus crisis.

On Wednesday, the US District Court for the Western District of Washington provided relief to the spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders. It ordered the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to allow auto-extension of their work authorisation for up to six months, The Economic Times reported.

The spouses of L-1 visa holders will not have to apply for the extension, but partners of H1-B visa holders will have to do so.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, that filed the lawsuit, described the settlement as historic.

“The litigation successfully achieved the reversal of US Citizenship and Immigration Services policy that prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from automatic extension of their employment authorisation during the pendency of standalone employment authorisation document applications,” the association said in a press note.

The lawyers’ association added: “The parties’ agreement will further result in a massive change in position for USCIS, which now recognises that L-2 spouses enjoy automatic work authorisation incident to status, meaning these spouses of executive and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorisation prior to working in the United States.”

Jon Wasden from the American Immigration Lawyers Association said H4 visa holders always met the criteria for automatic extension of employment authorisation.

“But the [immigration] agency previously prohibited them from that benefit and forced them to wait for reauthorisation,” Wasden added. “People were suffering. They were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason causing harm to them and US businesses. So, while I’m glad the agency finally followed the law, it is frankly frustrating that an easily fixable issue took this long to address.”