President Obama's White House recently restated its desire to allow the spouses of H1B workers to obtain work authorization in the U.S. Current regulations prohibit the husband or wife of an H1B worker from working unless they have their own employment visa.
USCIS issues H4 visas for the spouses of H1B employees. The law does not allow H4 spouses to work in the U.S. Two years ago, the White House said that it would like for H4 spouses to be allowed to work. It seems that the promise of work authorization for these immigrants arises whenever the topic of H1B workers comes up. Nothing concrete has happened yet.
President Obama's Department of Homeland Security can make this change if it wishes to do so. The proposal currently being discussed would allow for H4s to get a visa after the H1B spouse has been in status for 6 years.
Many H1B employees and their spouses are frustrated by their inability to work. In many cases, the immigrant worker spends many years in H1B status and their spouse is not allowed to work during the entire time. Obviously, this produces an economic hardship on the family. It also harms employers by denying them candidates who might help a company. Spouses of H1B workers are often highly skilled themselves and forcing them to stay at home all day is unproductive to say the least.
Time will tell if this is mere political posturing or whether real progress will be made.