H4 Visa: Guide for Dependants
The H4 visa is a popular category for those looking to accompany or join their loved ones in the States.
In this guide, we explain what the H4 visa is, from what it allows and who is eligible, to how to apply, with the costs and processing times involved.
What is the H4 visa?
The H4 visa is for eligible dependants of those looking to live and work in the United States, or are currently living and working there, under one of the various types of H visa classification. It is a nonimmigrant visa specifically designed for the spouse and dependent children of H visa-holders who want to accompany or follow to join them in the States.
There are a number of different work routes under H classification, including the:
- H1B visa: for overseas professionals working in specialty occupations that require a bachelor’s or higher degree that is directly related to the H1B position for whom they have a US sponsor. In addition to specialty occupation workers, H1B classification applies to individuals performing services of distinguished merit and ability as a fashion model.
- H2A visa: for agricultural workers who are being sponsored by a qualifying US employer or agent to fill temporary or seasonal job roles in the States for which there are not enough domestic workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to do this work.
- H2B visa: for non-agricultural workers who are being sponsored by a qualifying US employer or agent to fill job roles in the States for which there are not enough domestic workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to do this work.
- H3 visa: for nonimmigrant trainees to receive training in any field of endeavour, other than graduate medical training, that is not available in the noncitizen’s home country. This visa is also available to exchange visitors taking part in special education exchange programmes that provide practical training and experience in educating disabled minors.
The H4 visa is available to qualifying dependants of any one of the above H visa-holders.
Who is eligible for an H4 visa?
The H4 visa is aimed at immediate family members of H visa-holders to live in the United States with their spouse or parent. Immediate family members include the spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder.
To be eligible for an H4 visa, the applicant must therefore be either:
- the spouse of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder under H classification;
- an unmarried child aged under 21 of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder.
Children who are over 21 will not be eligible to apply for the H4 visa, but they may still be able to come to the States under a different immigration route. For example, they may be able to apply for a student visa. They can also apply to visit their parent(s) on a visitor visa. This will allow an adult child to stay in the US for periods of 6 months at a time.
What does the H4 visa allow?
The H4 visa will allow eligible dependants to live in the United States for the same duration as the primary visa-holder. This is because the length of stay for H4 visa-holders is directly linked to that of the nonimmigrant worker with permission under H classification. For example, if the H nonimmigrant has permission to work in the US for 3 years, then the dependant of that person will be granted permission to live in the States for 3 years. Equally, if the primary visa-holder makes an application to extend their stay, the H4 visa-holder can also apply for an extension in line with that of the principal applicant.
The limitations on the maximum length of stay for H nonimmigrants is as follows:
- For H1B specialty occupation workers or fashion models, the visa-holder may be admitted to the United States for a period of up to 3 years, although this time period may be extended, but generally cannot go beyond a maximum total of 6 years
- For H2A agricultural and H2B non-agricultural workers, the visa-holder may be admitted to the States for a maximum period of 3 years
- For H3 trainees, the visa-holder may be admitted to the States for a maximum period of 2 years, while special educational exchange visitors may be admitted for up to 18 months.
However, when it comes to undertaking employment, only certain dependent spouses of H1B nonimmigrants will be eligible to work in the US, ie; where the H1B nonimmigrant has already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status. The H4 spouse must apply for an employment authorisation document (EAD) by filing Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and be able to show that:
- the H1B nonimmigrant is the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker), where an application can be made for an H4 visa EAD once the Form I-140 petition is approved, even if the H1B nonimmigrant is yet to get a green card; or
- the H1B nonimmigrant has been granted H1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act 2000 (AC21), pending their application for a green card. Under the AC21, H1B nonimmigrants seeking employment-based lawful permanent residence may be eligible to work and remain in the United States beyond the 6-year H1B period of admission limitation.
An H4 spouse will not be authorized to work until USCIS has approved their application for an H4 visa EAD. However, once approved, an employment-authorized H4 spouse will be able to work in any kind of job in the States, unlike their H1B husband or wife who will be restricted to working in the role for which they have been sponsored. This means that these H4 spouses will not have the same employment limitations as an H1B visa-holder.
Family members of H2A, H2B and H3 nonimmigrants are not eligible to work in the States while in H4 status, either by filing for an H4 visa EAD or otherwise, unless they apply to switch classification and qualify for a work visa in their own right. These H4 visa-holders do, however, have the right to open a bank account, go to school and get a driver’s licence.
What is the process to apply for an H4 visa?
The process to apply for an H4 visa will depend on whether the applicant is applying from overseas or from within the US. A dependant can apply for an H4 visa at the same time as the principal applicant. An application can also be made separately, at a later date, to join the primary H1B visa-holder or to switch from a different nonimmigrant classification.
When applying from overseas for an H4 visa, the applicant will need to apply online using Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and pay the applicable fee. They will then need to schedule a visa interview appointment at their local US Embassy or Consulate.
The applicant will need to submit various documents in support, to be uploaded during the application process or to take with them to interview, including:
- the barcode confirmation page, application fee receipt and interview appointment letter
- a valid passport and two passport-sized photographs
- a marriage certificate for a spouse applicant or a birth certificate for a dependent child
- a copy of their spouse or parent’s visa application, where applying at the same time, together with a copy of Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker)
- a copy of their spouse or parent’s H visa, where applying later, together with a copy of Form I-129, Form I-797 (Notice of Action) and the Labor Certification Application
- a copy of their spouse/parent’s passport with a clear and identifiable photo
- a copy of their spouse/parent’s letter of employment from the US sponsor.
At interview, the H4 visa applicant may be asked a number of questions around the nature of their relationship with the principal applicant or primary visa-holder. For example, if they are the spouse of an H1B nonimmigrant, they may be asked questions pertaining to the genuineness of their marriage. They could also be asked about where they intend to live and if they intend to undertake work, although only the spouse of an H1B nonimmigrant will potentially be eligible to accept employment in the States. There is no structure or set format to an H4 visa interview, where the type and number of questions that an applicant may be asked can vary from application to application, or from country to country.
If an applicant is already in the United States on a different nonimmigrant visa, they can apply for an H4 visa through USCIS by filing Form I-539 (Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status). There is no annual quota or cap on how many people can apply for an H4 visa. This means that there is no deadline to apply, where an application can be made at any time. However, it is important to ensure that the application is completed correctly and the right documentation submitted in support. It is also important for the applicant to be prepared for any questions that may be asked of them during interview.
H4 visa interview questions
You will be asked a number of questions during your H4 visa interview, not least in relation to your marital status and/or your dependency on the primary visa holder. With so much riding on this interview, it is important to be prepared.
Although there is no set structure or definitive list of questions, you are likely to be asked questions in relation to the following matters:
- Why do you need an H4 visa?
- What do you plan to do in the US?
- Who do you plan on living with whilst you are there?
- Who will financially support you in the US?
- How long have you been married?
- When and how did you meet your spouse?
- Is your marriage registered?
- What is your spouse’s birthday?
- Who is your spouse’s employer?
- What kind of work does your spouse do?
- Who is sponsoring your spouse’s H-visa?
- What will you do after your H4 visa has expired?
How much is it to apply for an H4 visa?
The cost of applying for an H4 visa will again depend on whether an application is made from overseas or from within the United States. The fee to file online Form DS-160 is currently $190. To file Form I-539, the fee is $370, together with an $85 biometric services fee, where applicable. There is a temporary suspension on the biometrics fee requirement for certain Form I-539 applicants until 17 May 2023, including applicants requesting an extension of stay in or change of status to H4 classification. However, USCIS retains a discretion on a case-by-case basis to require biometrics for H4 visa applicants.
The fee for filing Form I-765 for an H4 visa EAD is $410. If the applicant is filing Form I-765 together with Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), they must pay the Form I-485 filing fee of $1225. However, the applicant will not also have to pay the Form I-765 filing fee. In contrast, as of 1 April 2022, USCIS will no longer accept a single, combined fee payment when filing Form I-765 at the same time as Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status).
The money paid for visa applications and biometric services is usually non-refundable, regardless of the outcome of any H4 visa or H4 visa EAD application.
How long does it take to obtain an H4 visa?
When applying for an H4 visa from overseas, much will depend on the visa appointment wait time for an interview with the local Embassy or Consulate. The wait time, for example, for the London Embassy for this category of nonimmigrant visa is currently 80 days, whilst the wait time in Sydney is currently 45 days. If the application for an H4 visa is approved at interview, there will also be a short turnaround time, typically of a few working days.
Importantly, an applicant should only make travel plans once they are in receipt of their H4 visa. The grant of a visa also does not guarantee entry to the US. That decision is left with the US Customs and Border Protection officers on arrival in the States. An H4 visa-holder should therefore travel with any relevant paperwork to show their relationship to the primary visa-holder, as well as evidence of where they will be living during their stay.
For those already in the US, changing nonimmigrant status to H4 classification can take up to several months. However, provided an application is filed prior to expiry of any existing lawful status, the H4 visa applicant will be able to stay in the US pending the outcome.
NNU Immigration are dedicated US immigration attorneys based in London. We provide specialist advice and guidance on all aspects of US visas including guidance for H-4 visa applications. For expert advice and support, contact us.
H-4 Visa FAQs
Can spouse of H-4 visa work?
Only dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants will be eligible to work in the States. The H-1B nonimmigrant must also already have started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status.
What is H-4 spouse visa?
An H-4 spouse visa is a dependent visa, for example, for the husband or wife of an H-1B nonimmigrant. An H-1B nonimmigrant usually refers to an overseas professional working in the US in a specialty occupation.
How do I file H-4 for my husband?
Your husband can apply for a H-4 dependent visa at the same time that you apply for a visa under H classification, or at a later date to join you in the United States.
Can H-4 spouse get EAD?
The H-4 spouse of an H-1B nonimmigrant can apply for an employment authorisation document (H4 visa EAD) in only limited circumstances, for example, if their husband or wife has an approved petition for a green card.
This post does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.