Work visas come with a variety of benefits for not only the person receiving them, but also his or her family. By getting certain work visas, beneficiaries can bring family members into the U.S., some with more perks than others. Find out how the H-4 visa works, how you can apply for one, and what advantages it offers you.
What is the H-4 Visa?
The H-4 visa is for the spouses and dependents of H visa holders who would like to accompany the principle H visa holder into the U.S. The current H visas include:
- H-1B: for specialty workers with bachelor’s degrees
- H-2A: for temporary agricultural workers
- H-2B: for temporary nonagricultural workers
- H-3: for those that are coming to the U.S. for training purposes
Your H-4 status will be tied to that of the principle H visa holder If something occurs that causes the principle holder to lose his or her status, your status will be lost as well. Conversely, if your the principle holder extends his or her status, your status will also be extended.
Under H-4 status, you will be able to live and study in the U.S. Those that are the spouses of H-1B holders can also work, provided that they obtain valid Employment Authorization Documents (EAD). Additionally, as of 2015, H-4 visa holders can apply for lawful permanent residence (green cards).
H-4 Visa Application Process
With the H-4 visa, you can either visit a spouse or parent who is working in the U.S. under H-1B status or you can accompany them for the
If you are outside of the U.S. and not under any other nonimmigrant visa status, you will need to go through a U.S consulate or embassy in order to obtain your H-4 visa. Once your spouse or parent has an approved H-1B visa, you can apply using the DS-160 online application for nonimmigrant visas.
Once you’ve completed the application and payed the filing fee, be sure to print out the confirmation and receipt of payment. You can then schedule an appointment with the U.S. consulate in your home country. There, you will be called in for a one-on-one interview with a consular officer to determine the legitimacy of your case. You may be asked questions pertaining to your H-4 visa, your spouse or parent, their employment, or your plans in the U.S.
If your application is approved and your interview goes well, the consulate will keep your passport and mail it to you with your H-4 visa stamp inside. You can then accompany or visit your H-1B parent or spouse in the U.S.
What is the H-4 Processing Time?
The processing time for the H-4 depends on the caseload of the U.S. consulate or embassy that you will go to for your interview. You may have to schedule your interview several weeks in advance. If you are approved, then it will also take a few weeks for the embassy to mail you your passport with your visa inside. Speak with your immigration attorney to get a better idea of what your H-4 processing time will be.
Unfortunately, while premium processing is occasionally helpful for expediting the H-1B petition, it cannot be used to expedite the H-4 visa processing time.
How To Get an H-4 Work Permit
There are a few requirements that must be met before you are able to get an H-4 work permit, or EAD. Firstly, as previously stated, you must be the spouse of an H-1B holder—no other H visa has this benefit and dependents are not qualified. To see how your spouse can qualify for and obtain an H-1B, you can see our complete guide on this popular visa.
Secondly, your H-1B holder spouse must have successfully filed an I-140 petition to establish permanent residence in the U.S. through a green card. This petition must also have already been approved by the USCIS. However, keep in mind that it sometimes takes several years to go from I-140 approval to getting a green card due to priority dates, so as long as the I-140 has been approved, you are eligible for an EAD.
If your spouse’s I-140 is revoked before you obtain your EAD, then you will no longer be qualified for it. However, if this happens after you have gotten your work permit, then it will remain valid until its expiration date. At that time, if you do not have an H-1B spouse with an approved I-140, you will not be able to renew your EAD.
Also, if your spouse has multiple I-140s approved with the USCIS, having one revoked will not invalidate your EAD. The regulations only state that your spouse needs to have an approved I-140. Alternatively, you may also be able to qualify if your spouse was admitted for H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21). Speak with your immigration attorney to see if you fall under this exception.
On the other hand, if your H-1B spouse loses his or her job, he or she will have 60 days to find a new employer to sponsor his or her H-1B. If your spouse is unable to find a new sponsoring employer, you will both fall out of status and will need to leave the U.S., your EAD will be considered invalid.
EAD Application Process
If you are qualified, you can file an I-765 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. You will need to submit the following documents as well in order to avoid unnecessary delays and requests for evidence (RFEs):
- Evidence of your H-4 status such as a copy of your I-797 approval notice or a copy of your I-94 arrival/departure card.
- Proof of a legitimate marriage between you and the principle H-1B holder. This can be in the form of a marriage certificate copy.
- Proof of your identity such as a birth certificate, a copy of your passport, a visa, or even a past EAD.
- Evidence that your spouse has an approved I-140. You can submit the I-797 approval notice for the green card.
- Lastly, you’ll need two identical photos of yourself in color that are passport-style: 2×2 inches.
If and when the USCIS approves your petition, you will be able to work. It is important that you do not work before that time, as unauthorized employment in the U.S. can damage your ability to get an EAD, renew your status, or get a green card. It might even result in deportation.
Once you get your EAD, you will enjoy the freedom to work in whatever capacity you desire be it full-time work, part-time work, or even work for multiple employers simultaneously, just like your H-1B spouse. However, unlike your spouse, you will also be able to work for any employer and are not limited to any sponsor. Feel free to move from one job to the next without jeopardizing your H-4 visa status.
H-4 to Green Card
Fortunately, a major benefit of the H-4 is that it has dual intent, meaning that you can pursue lawful permanent resident status without impacting your visa. This is not true for many nonimmigrant visas (such as the TN, J-1, and F-1 visas), so many people seek to get H-4 status just for this advantage.
Once you are under a valid H-4 status, your green card process will be the same as any other. You will need to choose a green card based on what works best for your situation. Here are some methods:
- You can have your H-1B spouse obtain his or her green card before sponsoring you for an F2A green card.
- If your spouse becomes a citizen, he or she can sponsor you for a marriage-based green card, which is the green card with the shortest processing time.
- You can have your employer sponsor you for an EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 visa:
- The EB-1 is for outstanding researchers and professors as well as multinational executives and managers.
- The EB-2 is for those with advanced degrees and those with exceptional ability in their field.
- The EB-3 is for bachelor’s degree holders, skilled workers, and other workers.
- You can also self-petition using the EB-1A or the EB-2 green card with a National Interest Waiver.
However you choose to pursue your green card, here are the basic steps that are common for most immigrant visas:
- You or your sponsor must file the appropriate petition for your green card (e.g. I-140, I-130, etc.) along with the appropriate fees.
- You must wait until your petition is approved. For the I-140, you may be able to opt for premium processing, which will make your processing time just 15 calendar days.
- For all visas except for the marriage-based green card, you will have to wait until your priority date is current. Your priority date is the day that the USCIS receives your petition. The Department of State published its “final action dates” in its monthly visa bulletin. Once your priority date matches or passes the final action date in your category, your priority date will be considered current and you can move onto the next step.
- Lastly, you will have to file an I-485 application to adjust your status. This will take about six months to process depending on how busy your USCIS service center is. After your status is adjusted (from H-4 to green card), you will officially be a lawful permanent resident.
Once you have your green card, you will be able to live and work freely in the U.S. without work permits. You also only have to renew your green card once every ten years and you do not have to re-qualify.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
When it comes to anything having to do with immigration law, you want to make sure that you get it right the first time. With so much change happening on a day-to-day basis in immigration policies and regulations, it’s more important than ever to have an expert on your side with years of experience with H-4 visas. Hiring an immigration attorney can help you save time, effort, and also money.
Here at Immi-USA, we work for you. Our dedicated team of H-1B and H-4 attorneys will handle everything from filing the initial petition to helping you get your EAD. That way, you can let us worry about the legal work while you focus on your plans in the U.S.
To get in touch with one of our immigration attorneys about your H-4 visa, you can fill out our contact form and schedule a consultation with our office today!