Due to a new interpretation by the Department of State of the reciprocity rules between the United States and other countries, G-4 dependents may be deemed ineligible for work authorization in the United States unless a bilateral work agreement exists between the United States and the principal G-4’s country of nationality.  While 112 countries have such agreements — although some agreements have limitations on work — and another 35 countries have de facto reciprocal work arrangements, noticeably absent is China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, among others. It is important to note that it is the principal visa holder’s country of nationality that controls. This means that spouses and children of G-4s “deemed” from countries that do not have such agreements with the United States will not be able to renew their work authorization when it expires, and first time applicants will be denied. In other words, if the principal G-4 is a Chinese national, for example, her G-4 dependent spouse who is a national of the United Kingdom is ineligible for work authorization, even though the United Kingdom has a bilateral work agreement with the United States.

While senior officials from the various international organizations are meeting with senior State Department officials to discuss how to ameliorate the impact on family members of G-4 international employees – hopefully by postponing or phasing in implementation — it is doubtful that the new policy will be reversed. 

Why the change and what is the basis for it?  Historically, foreign service family members have been limited to doing volunteer work or working within a U.S. mission while abroad because of their diplomatic or consular status. To increase their opportunities for employment, bilateral work agreements have been established through a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and an individual country. These work agreements enable spouses and dependent children of U.S. government employees assigned to official duty at a U.S. embassy or consulate in one of these countries to seek work authorization and work in the local economy.  In other cases, on the basis of de facto reciprocity established by precedent, spouses and dependent children of similarly situated U.S. government employees also have been able to obtain work permits. Because G-4 visa holders have certain diplomatic privileges and immunities, these reciprocity rules are now being applied to them.