H-4 Visa, Dependents of H-1B Worker

H-4 Visa

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What is an H-4 visa?

An H-4 visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued to the spouses and unmarried children under 21 of H-1B visa holders. 

The H-1B visa is a temporary work visa for foreign nationals who are employed in specialized occupations.

H-4 visa is designed to allow immediate family members to accompany them and live in the U.S. while the H-1B visa holder is working.

Key points about the H-4 visa:

  • Work authorization: some H-4 visa holders are eligible for employment authorization. Learn who can apply for H-4 EAD (Employment Authorization Document).
  • Validity: The H-4 visa is generally issued for the same duration as the H-1B visa, allowing family members to stay in the U.S. for the same period.
  • Dependents’ status: If the H-1B visa holder’s employment status changes (e.g., if they switch to a different visa category or lose their job), it can impact the H-4 visa holders’ status as well.

How to apply for an H-4 visa if I am outside the U.S.?

After Form I-129 is approved, H-1B’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 can apply for the H-4 visa by filing Form DS-160.

Each dependent must submit an individual  Form DS-160.

The principal’s (H-1B visa holder’s) original Form I-129 approval notice is required.

If the H-1B visa holder is already in the U.S. a copy of the H-1B’s I-94 record must be submitted.

To apply for an H-4 visa if you are outside the United States, you will need to take the following steps:

  • Determine your eligibility: You must be the spouse or unmarried child under 21 of an H-1B visa holder to be eligible for an H-4 visa. The primary H-1B visa holder must already be approved for their H-1B status.
  • Complete Form DS-160: Complete Form DS-160, the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. After completing the form, you will receive a DS-160 confirmation page with a barcode, which you should print and keep for your records.
  • Pay the visa application fee: Pay the non-refundable visa application fee of $205. You can find the current H visa fee information on the U.S. Department of State’s website.
  • Create a profile on US Travel Docs website: Create a profile to schedule your visa appointment and pay the visa application processing fee.
  • Schedule a visa appointment: Visit US Travel Docs website, create a profile and schedule a visa appointment at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Be prepared to select a date and time for your visa interview.
  • Gather required documents: Collect the necessary documents for your H-4 visa application. These typically include:
    • Passport that is valid for at least 6 months
    • Form DS-160 confirmation page
    • Visa appointment confirmation page
    • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
    • U.S. visa photo – you will upload your photograph while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Visa Photograph Requirements
    • A copy of the primary H-1B visa holder’s Form I-129 approval notice 
    • Marriage certificate (for spouses) and birth certificates (for children) to prove the relationship to the primary H-1B visa holder.
    • Any additional documents required by the specific U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Check the embassy or consulate’s website for their specific requirements.
  • Attend the visa interview: On the scheduled date, attend the visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. Be prepared to answer questions about your relationship with the H-1B visa holder. The consular officer will review your documents and make a decision on your visa application.
  • Receive your visa: If your H-4 visa is approved, it will be placed in your passport and returned to you.

How to change status to H-4 if I am already in the U.S.?

If you are already in the U.S. and want to change your status to H-4 (from another nonimmigrant status), you can do so by filing a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.

This application may be filed together with the principal H-1B visa holder’s extension.

Here are the steps to change your status to H-4 while in the U.S.:

  • Determine Eligibility:
    • You must be eligible for H-4 status, which typically means you are the spouse or unmarried child under 21 years of age of an H-1B visa holder 
    • Make sure you are maintaining your current nonimmigrant status and have not violated your status.
  • Gather Required Documents:
    • Complete Form I-539: Download the most recent version of Form I-539 from the USCIS website, fill it out, sign and date it. Fill out Form I-539A for each co-applicant (if applicable). Some categories of applicants can file Form I-539 online.
    • Proof of relationship: You will need to provide documentation proving your relationship to the H-1B visa holder, such as a marriage certificate (for spouses) or a birth certificate (for children).
    • Copy of the H-1B visa holder’s documents: Provide documentation proving the H-1B visa holder’s status, such as their Form I-129 approval notice (Form I-797), a copy of their H-1B visa, or copy of their I-94 record.
    • Filing fee: Submit a payment of $370. You can pay this fee with a money order, personal check, or cashier’s check. Make sure to verify the correct filing fee on the USCIS I-539 page.
  • File the Form I-539:
    • Mail your completed Form I-539, the payment and all supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facility. The USCIS website provides information on the correct address for your specific location. Be sure to keep copies of everything you submit. If you are filing I-539 online, all documents and the payment will be submitted electronically.
  • Biometrics Appointment (if required):
    • USCIS may require you to attend a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints and a photograph. You will receive a notice from USCIS with details if this is necessary. Attending the biometric appointment is mandatory.
  • Wait for USCIS Processing:
    • USCIS will process your application, which can take several months. You can check the status of your application online using the USCIS case status tool. Some categories of I-539 applicants might be eligible for Premium Processing Fee which enables you to receive the decision in 15 calendar days. 
  • Receive USCIS Decision:
    • USCIS will notify you in writing of their decision on your application. If your application is approved, you will receive a new I-94 Arrival/Departure Record indicating your H-4 status.
  • Maintain Your H-4 Status:
    • Once your status change is approved, you must comply with your H-4 status requirements, including any restrictions on employment. Some H-4 spouses are eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

H-4 visa filing fees

The filing fees for an H-4 visa application if you are located outside the U.S.:

  • DS-160 Visa Application Fee: The DS-160 visa application fee is $0.
  • Visa Issuance Fee: $205.

For the most up-to-date information on H-4 visa fees and payment methods, visit the U.S. Department of State’s official website.

The filing fees for a change of status to H-4 if you are already in the U.S.:

How to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as an H-4 visa holder?

To be eligible for an EAD as an H-4 visa holder, you must be in one of the following categories:

  • H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant visa holders who are on an H-1B visa status extension beyond the initial six years due to an approved Form I-140 immigrant petition.
  • H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant visa holders who are the beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140 immigrant petition.
  • You must be in valid H-4 status at the time of filing and remain in valid H-4 status during the EAD application process.

You can learn more about applying for EAD as an H-4 dependent spouse in our guide.

H-4 visa duration of stay

The duration of stay for H-4 visa holders in the U.S. is typically linked to the H-1B visa holder’s status, as H-4 visas are dependent visas. 

Here are some key points to understand about the duration of stay for H-4 visa holders:

  • Duration Matching H-1B Status: H-4 visa holders can stay in the U.S. for the same duration as the H-1B principal visa holder. This means that as long as the H-1B holder’s status is maintained, the H-4 visa holder can also stay in the U.S.
  • H-1B Validity Period: The H-1B visa holder’s duration of stay is determined by the validity period of their H-1B visa, which is typically granted for an initial period of up to three years, with the possibility of extension for an additional three years. In some cases, H-1B status can be extended beyond the initial six years under certain circumstances, such as when an H-1B holder is pursuing permanent residency (green card).
  • H-4 Visa Extension: To continue staying in the U.S. beyond the expiration date of their H-4 visa, H-4 visa holders must ensure that the H-1B visa holder’s status is extended, and they should apply for an extension of their H-4 status as well. This extension application typically involves filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
  • Employment Authorization (EAD): Some H-4 visa holders may be eligible to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), allowing them to work in the U.S. This employment authorization is generally tied to the validity of the H-4 status and can be renewed as long as the H-1B principal spouse’s status remains in good standing.
  • Dependents’ Status: H-4 status is entirely dependent on the primary H-1B visa holder maintaining their status. If the H-1B holder’s status is terminated, the couple divorces, or if they leave the United States, it can affect the H-4 status of their dependent family members.
  • Time spent as an H-4 dependent does not count against the maximum allowable period of stay available to principal H-1B status holders.
  • The six-year limit applicable to H-1Bs applies to H-4s as well even if the H-4 changes to H-1B status.
  • Spouses may not benefit from the other spouse’s eligibility for H-1B extensions under AC21 if the spouse is seeking their own H-1B.

Related Links:

How to Apply for EAD as an H-4 Dependent

Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status

H-1B Visas

How to Apply for H-1B