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US Dependent Visa for Spouses, Partners & Children

US Dependent Visa for Spouses, Partners & Children

The following guide provides a summary of some of the most common US dependent visas, both immigrant and nonimmigrant, to help you and your US-bound or US-based loved one explore the options that might be available to you to accompany or follow to join them in the States. We look at the different types of visas for dependants, including how long these will last, what they will allow and who can apply. We also look at the procedure and processing times involved, although you may be able to visit friends and family without a visa.


What are the different types of US dependent visas?

There are two main types of US dependent visa: immigrant and nonimmigrant. An immigrant visa is for immediate family looking to settle in the States on a permanent basis, while a nonimmigrant visa is for those looking to travel to the US on a temporary basis, for example, to join or accompany your partner or parent who may be working or studying there.

In some cases, you may be able to apply for what is commonly known as a derivative visa, where you are seeking permission to come to the US on the basis of your immediate relationship with the principal visa applicant or primary visa-holder. As a temporary visa, a derivative visa falls within the nonimmigrant classification. This could be, for example, as the spouse or dependent child of an E1 treaty trader or an E2 treaty investor, or the spouse or child of an L1 intracompany transferee, specifically known as an L2 visa-holder.

In other cases, you may be applying for a nonimmigrant visa in your own right, such as a B2 visit visa, which is for the purpose of visiting friends and family in the States.

When it comes to immigrant US dependent visas, you will need to be sponsored by either a US citizen or, in some cases, a lawful permanent resident. This could include the IR1 spouse visa, the IR2 dependent child visa or the IR5 parent visa, as well as a range of family-preference immigrant visas. Other family-sponsored visas include the K1 fiancée or K3 spouse visa.

Spouses and children may also accompany or join employment-based immigrants under E1 to E5 immigrant classification, including: priority workers and persons of extraordinary ability (E1); professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability (E2); professionals, and skilled and unskilled workers (E3); certain special immigrants, such as broadcasters and ministers of religion (E4); and immigrant investors (E5).


What you can do under a US dependent visa?

The scope of a US dependent visa will depend on the type of visa sought. If you are granted an immigrant visa, you will be able to live, work and study in the US free from immigrations restrictions. In contrast, there are a various conditions of stay attached to nonimmigrant visas, from where you can or cannot work to what else you can or cannot do.

Each category of nonimmigrant visa has different requirements, with different restrictions, so you must ensure that you carefully consider what each visa will permit you to do during your stay in the States. In the case of the B2 visit visa, you will not be allowed to undertake paid employment, so you will not be able to earn any income during your stay. However, you will be able to take in the sights or travel about for the purposes of tourism. You will also be able to undertake a short course of recreational study to keep you entertained if your US host is busy.

In contrast, as an L2 spouse, or a spouse under E1 or E2 classification — and even though the primary visa-holder will be limited to working for the US business for which their visa was granted — there will generally be no restrictions on where you can work, provided you are able to provide proof of your status to your US employer. On the grant of a visa under either L or E classification, you will usually be considered employment-authorised incident to status. L2 and E1/E2 children can also undertake part-time or full-time study in the States.


How long does a US dependent visa last?

The length of a US dependent visa will depend on the type of visa sought, where the B2 visit visa is the most limited in duration, with a maximum initial stay of up to 6 months. At the opposite end of the spectrum are various different immigrant visas, providing the successful applicant with permanent residency status, with the derivative visa lying somewhere in-between, whose length of validity will be directly tied to that of the primary visa-holder. This means that spouse or children can apply at the same time and expect the same grant of leave.

Under a derivative visa, for example, if you are granted admission to the States under L2 nonimmigrant classification, you will typically be granted permission to stay for the same length of time as your L1 spouse or parent. An L1 intracompany transferee will usually have permission to work in the US for 3 years, unless they have applied on the basis of establishing a new US office, in which case their initial stay will be limited to 1 year. L1 visa-holders can also apply for an extension of stay in increments of 2 years, until they have reached the maximum limit of 5 years for L1B specialised knowledge employees or 7 years for L1A executives or managers. As an L2 visa-holder, your visa can be extended at the same time.

Equally, if you are granted a visa under E classification — as the spouse or dependent child of someone engaging in substantial trade in the US, or overseeing the running of a US business in which they have invested a substantial amount of capital, or as a senior or essential employee of the principal investor — the length of a derivative visa will again be directly tied to that of the primary visa-holder. Even though the initial grant of stay will be for 2 years, there is no limit to the number of extensions an E1 or E2 nonimmigrant may be granted, provided they maintain an intention to depart the States when their status expires.


Does a dependent visa lead to a US Green Card?

An immigrant visa, or green card, is specifically designed to allow the successful applicant to settle in the States on a permanent basis although, in some cases, a green card may initially be granted with conditional residency status. As a conditional permanent resident, you will be given a green card for 2 years. You can then apply to remove this conditional status within 90 days before the 2-year anniversary of your entry into the US.

Importantly, the K1 fiancée or K3 spouse visa are strictly nonimmigrant visas. However, they are treated under the category of immigrant visas because they are for immigration-related purposes, allowing the fiancée or spouse of a US citizen to live with them in the States while awaiting approval of an immigrant petition to adjust their status to permanent residency. The K1 visa will allow you to live with your new spouse, provided you marry within 90 days of arriving in the US, while the K3 visa is designed to shorten the physical separation between you and an existing spouse, both pending the grant of permanent resident status.

Other nonimmigrant visas may also provide a path to permanent residency. For example, the L1 and L2 visas are ‘dual intent’ visas, allowing you and your spouse or parent to temporarily live in the US with the possible intention of permanently immigrating to the States. This means that you, at the same time as your spouse or parent, can eventually apply for a green card, provided you meet the qualifying requirements for permanent residency status.


US dependent visa eligibility requirements

To be eligible for a US dependent visa, you will typically need to satisfy a strict relationship requirement. In most cases, this means that you must be either the spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder, or a qualifying relative of either a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, US visa law does not recognise common-law relationships, where you will not be eligible for derivative visa status as a partner or fiancée. There is also no derivative visa status for the spouse or dependent children who wish to accompany or join the holder of either a B, C, D or Q nonimmigrant visa.

In circumstances where you do not qualify for derivative status, you will need to apply for a work or study visa in your own right, or if the primary purpose in travelling to the States is to accompany the principal visa-holder, for a visit visa. A visit visa can be granted, regardless of proximity of relationship. This means that you can apply for a visit visa to travel to stay with an immediate relative for up to 6 months, or even a distant relative or old school friend, provided you can show that you meet the relevant requirements. This will include having sufficient funds to cover the cost of your trip and an intention to leave at the end of your stay.


How do you apply for a US dependent visa?

Where sponsorship is required from a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must first have in place an approved petition from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), before filing an online visa application with your local US Embassy or Consulate using Form DS-260, and scheduling and attending an in-person interview. When filing for a nonimmigrant derivative visa or visit visa, you will instead need to file Form DS-160 and attend an interview.

You will also need to file a number of detailed documents in support, proving that you meet the relevant requirements for your visa. The nature of this documentation will vary, depending on the classification of visa sought, although you will almost always need to prove that you have a qualifying relationship with either your US sponsor, or the principal applicant or primary visa-holder, unless you are applying for a visit visa in your own right. However, even when applying for a B2 visit visa, you may still be required to satisfy the consular officer dealing with your application that the purpose of your trip is to spend time with a loved one.

Processing times for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas can vary a lot, from anything between a matter of days and weeks, to months or even years. Visa processing times can also vary from country to country, so enquiries should be made with your local Embassy or Consulate. Their website should also set out the relevant fees. However, it is important not to make any firm travel plans until you have been approved for, and have received, your US dependent visa.


Visiting the US

If you are visiting someone in the US and do not plan to stay to work or reside there, you can travel as a visitor. Under the visitor rules, you could be eligible to travel visa-free or you will need to apply for a visitor visa.

If you are a national of one of several participating countries, and meet the other qualifying requirements, you may be able to travel to the States visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). However, to qualify for a visa waiver under the VWP, you must:

  • be a national of an eligible country (you can check to see if your country participates in the VWP on the US department for Homeland Security website)
  • have a valid e-passport and hold a return or onward ticket
  • not be ineligible to receive a visa under US immigration law
  • be planning to travel to the US to visit your loved one for less than 90 days.

If you are eligible for visa-free travel, you will need to obtain travel authorization under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) prior to boarding a US bound air or sea carrier at least 72 hours before you depart. ESTA authorisation will usually last for up to 2 years, where you can make an unlimited number of trips to the US within this time, with each stay lasting up to 90 consecutive days, provided you are not making the US your home through frequent or successive trips. If you do not qualify for visa-free travel under the VWP, or if any application for ESTA authorisation has been denied, you will instead need to apply for a visa.


US dependent visa FAQs

How can I apply for dependent visa for USA?

There are various different types of US dependent visa, including nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. However, in all cases, even if you require an approved petition first, you will need to file an online form and attend an in-person interview.

How long does it take for US dependent visa?

The processing times for a nonimmigrant US dependent visa can vary, depending on the type of visa sought and which country you are applying from. You can check the visa appointment wait times on the US Department of State website.

What is the process of dependent visa?

When applying for a derivative visa, based on your immediate relationship with the principal applicant or primary visa-holder, you can apply at the same time, or at a later date, by filing an online application and attending an interview.

How can I apply for H4 visa for my wife?

Your wife can apply for a H4 dependent visa at the same time that you apply for a H visa. An application can also be made separately, at a later date, to join you or switch to this visa category.

This post does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. 


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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