H4 Visa for Dependants
One of the advantages of the H-1B visa route is that your dependants are also eligible to join you in the US under the H4 visa. The following guide looks at the H4 visa for dependants, including who can apply and what H4 visa holders are permitted to do in the US.
What is the H4 visa?
The H4 visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to the spouse and children of H1B visa holders who want to accompany the H-visa holder to the United States.
The H1B visa holder is an individual who has been granted permission to travel to the US to work in a speciality occupation, ie; a professional working in a job role that requires theoretical/technical expertise or academic qualification, at degree level or equivalent, and for whom they have a US sponsor.
Who is eligible for an H4 visa?
The USCIS will allow immediate family members of H-visa holders, including the H1B visa, to obtain a H4 visa to lawfully come and stay in the US with their spouse or parent.
Immediate family members include the spouse or any children under the age of 21 of the H-visa holder. Accordingly, to be eligible to apply for the H4 visa, you have to meet either one of the following conditions:
- Be the spouse of a H-visa holder. This includes the H1B, H1B1, H2A, H2B or H3 visas.
- Be the child, under the age of 21 years old, of an approved H-visa holder. The children of a H-visa holder who are over 21 will not be eligible to apply for the H4 visa.
Family members may alternatively be admitted in other nonimmigrant categories for which they qualify, for example, the F1 category for spouses or children who are coming to study, or the H1B category for a spouse whose employer has also obtained approval of an H1B visa petition to employ the spouse.
How to apply for an H4 visa
When applying for an H4 visa, typically you will need to take the following steps:
- Apply online using Form DS-160. When you start your H4 online visa application, you will need to print the barcode confirmation page to take with you to interview.
- Pay the applicable H4 visa fee. You should save your fee receipt as you will require this later. Currently, the application fee for an H4 visa is $190.
- Schedule a visa interview appointment with your local US Embassy or consulate. Having scheduled your interview, you will get a letter of confirmation, which again you will need to retain.
- Submit your H4 visa documents. In addition to form DS-160, you will be required to provide other documents when applying for an H4 visa, including a marriage or birth certificate, a copy of your spouse’s/parent’s H-type visa, together with their I-129 form, I-797 form and the Labor Certification Application.
- Attend the visa interview. During interview, you will be asked detailed questions to determine, in particular, whether or not your relationship with the H-visa holder is genuine.
- Await a decision. The interviewing officer may be able to determine immediately your eligibility for an H4 visa. However, further documentation may be required.
- Await your visa. If your application for an H4 visa is successful, you will still need to wait for your visa to be processed and returned to you. You can check your visa status on the website of the US Embassy where you are applying by entering your application number. The visa processing times can vary depending on the country from which you apply.
- Book your ticket to the US. You should only make travel plans once you are in receipt of your H4 visa. Please also be aware that the grant of a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. That decision is left with the port of entry officers and the Department of Homeland Security on your arrival in the country.
Please note, if you are already within the United States, you can submit your H4 visa application through the USCIS by filing Form I-539 for change of status.
What will I be asked during my H4 visa interview?
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 long can I stay in the US for under an H4 visa?
When you apply for an H4 visa, you will have to submit your spouse’s or parent’s I-797 form. This is a Notice of Action, issued as a result of an application or a petition submitted to the USCIS for a H1B or other H-visa.
The I-797 form will state the dates that the visa of your spouse or parent is valid from and until. An H4 visa holder will be admitted to the US for the duration of the primary H-visa validity.
As such, if your spouse or parent has a visa that is valid for 3 years, your H4 visa will also be valid for 3 years. However, you may be eligible to stay for longer, using Form I-539, in the event that the primary H-visa holder applies for an extension to remain in the United States.
What does the H4 visa allow?
Prior to 2015 work for an H4 visa was prohibited. As of 26 May 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended eligibility for employment authorisation to H4 dependent spouses of H1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status. The DHS amended the regulations to allow certain H4 dependent spouses to accept employment in the United States, namely where there H1B spouse satisfies one of the following two conditions:
- Has an approved Form I-140, ie; an immigration petition for foreign citizens to get a green card; or
- Has been granted H1B status beyond six years under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, pending their application for a green card.
Please note, however, that the rules have recently been reconsidered under the Trump administration, whereby H4 visa holder employment rights may soon be revoked. As it currently stands, however, H4 dependent spouses of H1B visa holders are potentially eligible to work, and to receive social security numbers.
Whilst other H4 visa holders are not eligible to get a social security number and cannot be employed, they can hold a driver’s license, open a bank account and get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for US tax purposes.
The H4 visa holder can also enrol on an academic course of study or apply to change their status to a different visa category, for example, if they receive an offer of a job from a US sponsor.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.