H-4 Dependent Spouses and Children Visa Summary

The H-4 visa is designed for the immediate family members—spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old—of H-1B visa holders. It offers a pathway to join your loved ones in the U.S. and engage in various activities, including employment (in certain cases) and education.

What is the process of applying for an H-4 visa if outside the U.S. (consular processing)?

If you are the spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of an H-1B visa holder, then you can apply for an H-4 visa.

First, complete form DS-160 on the U.S. Department of State’s website and pay the visa fee. You’ll receive a confirmation receipt with a barcode, which you’ll need for the visa interview. Next, you must schedule a visa interview appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Sometimes you can schedule the visa interview in a third country, if the country’s rules allow it.

When you go to the visa interview, you must bring the following documents:

  • A valid passport with at least six months of validity beyond your intended stay in the U.S.
  • Form DS-160 confirmation receipt
  • Visa application fee receipt
  • One passport-sized photo meeting specific requirements
  • Marriage certificate (if applying as a spouse)
  • Birth certificate (if applying as a child)
  • A copy of the H-1B holder’s approval notice
  • Evidence of the H-1B holder’s ability to financially support the H-4 applicant(s)
  • Other documents required by the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where your interview is scheduled.

At the interview, be prepared to answer questions about your relationship with the H-1B holder, purpose of travel, ties to your home country, and intent to stay temporarily in the U.S. In some cases, you may be required to provide biometric data, such as fingerprints and a photograph.

Sometimes the consular officer will give you a decision at the interview. Or you may be requested to provide additional information. Or your case may go into administrative processing. Or you may get a denial and the reason for it.

If approved, your passport will be stamped with the H-4 visa, which can take a few days to a couple of weeks. This allows you to come to or re-enter the United States.

What is the process of applying for an H-4 visa if inside the U.S.?

If you are already in the U.S. on another visa status, you can apply to change your status to H-4 by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with USCIS. This can be submitted with the H-1B application or separately. If Form I-539 is filed separately, then it will not be eligible for premium processing.

The documentation required with Form I-539 is the same as the documents required for consular processing, listed above.

The fee for filing form I-539 with USCIS is $370. Each applicant must also pay an $85 biometrics fee. If you also want premium processing (to get communication from USCIS within 15 days) then the additional fee is $2,500.

To get the visa stamp in your passport, you follow the instructions for consular processing above. If you travel outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter until you have an H-4 visa stamp in your passport.

How long is an H-4 visa valid?

The H-4 visa can be up for up to three years. The eligibility lasts until the principal H-1B holder has an approved I-129. 

Can I work on an H-4 visa?

Historically, H-4 visa holders were not authorized to work in the U.S., but there have been significant regulatory changes in recent years that have expanded employment opportunities for certain H-4 visa holders.

The most significant development is the introduction of the H-4 EAD program, which allows eligible H-4 visa holders to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”). To be eligible, the H-1B holder must be the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) or have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21).

If you are eligible, you can apply for an H-4 EAD by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the required supporting documents and fees. Once approved, the H-4 EAD allows the holder to legally work in the U.S. Unlike H-1B holders, H-4 EAD holders are not restricted to a specific employer or job.

The H-4 EAD is typically granted for a period of two years, with the option to renew as long as the H-4 visa holder continues to meet the eligibility criteria.

What else can I do in the U.S. on an H-4 visa?

While H-4 visa holders cannot work in the U.S. by default, there are several meaningful activities they can engage in. H-4 visa holders can study in the U.S., including at schools, colleges, universities, and vocational institutions. Additionally, H-4 visa holders can obtain a tax ID, open a bank account, get a driver’s license, and even invest in or start a business (though you cannot work for it unless you have an H-4 EAD).