Feds finalize immigration rules for spouses of high-skilled workers

The administration finalized rules that will allow some husbands and wives of high-skilled foreign workers to get jobs in the United States. 

The move announced Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security could apply to as many as 180,000 people in the first year and 55,000 every subsequent year — many of them in the technology sector. 

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The rule has been nearly a year in the making and will take effect in May. 

The announcement comes amid a congressional standoff over the DHS, with Republicans seeking to use a funding measure to block President Obama's immigration actions shielding many immigrants from deportation. Lawmakers must approve a funding measure by the Friday-deadline to avert a DHS shutdown.

Currently, foreigners working in the United States on a specialty visa — called an H-1B visa — are able to have their spouse also come and live in the country. But the spouses are not allowed to get a work permit. 

Under the new rule, if the H-1B visa holder is on a path to permanent residence, his or her spouse could be eligible to get a work permit by filling out an employment application and paying a $380 fee. 

The draft rules were initially announced last May and President Obama highlighted them when he announced a series of broader executive actions on immigration last year, which led to the current standoff over DHS funding.

The rule will be published in the federal register Wednesday and take effect May 26. 

The technology sector could benefit from the move, with many high-skilled visa holders taking jobs in the computer industry. 

Tech groups pushing for immigration reform applauded the move but said comprehensive reform is still needed. 

"We're moving in the right direction, but the tech community still needs immigration reform. Our job is nowhere near done - and every day lost without a permanent legislative solution to fix our broken immigration system is hurting our nation," said Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, an advocacy group founded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. 

Compete America, another tech group focusing on immigration, also applauded the move and said it looked forward to seeing it in action. 

"Because many high-skilled foreign professionals must wait decades for green cards due to enormous backlogs, their spouses, often highly educated themselves, must also wait decades to continue their own careers," the group said in a statement.

TechNet said the welcome reform highlights the dysfunction of the overall system and called on Congress and the president to "renew the reform effort," while Engine said "we still await Congressional action."