What Is an H-4 Visa?

H-4 visa holders are immediate family members of H-1B visa holders. Most H-4 visa holders are spouses who want to join their partner in a new country. They enjoy many of the benefits of living in the United States, but some limitations exist. That's why an H-1B visa is better.

What Are the Rights of an H-4 Visa Holder?

They can live in the United States on a continuous basis. They can also travel to and from the country as needed. H-4 visa holders can either join their spouse immediately or choose to move to America at a later date. They also have the right to attend college in the United States and may even enjoy discounted tuition.

Who Qualifies for an H-4 Visa?

The only people who qualify are dependents. In the United States, those people are spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

How Long Does an H-4 Visa Last?

No official termination date exists for an H-4 visa. Instead, the holder of the primary visa, the H-1B, will determine length of stay. When that visa expires, both the H-1B and H-4 holders are no longer eligible for American residency.

How Does a Person Apply for an H-4 Visa?

The applicants of both the H-1B and H-4 visas usually apply together. Otherwise, the paperwork won't get finished at the same time, leaving one person unable to join the other in the United States.

The potential holder will fill out an application. It includes requests such as first and last name and passport information. The person should get their spouse's information stamped on the passport as well, for clarity. Otherwise, airport officials might not let them in. The passport's expiration date must extend at least six months beyond the date of the intended visit.

Another sticking point is a spouse's last name. If they legally adopt their partner's last name, the passport should reflect it. The H-4 visa will identify the person by the name on the documentation. Someone who fails to update will have to use their maiden name in the United States, even if they go by a different name.

Proof of marriage is required for spouses. A wedding album is an acceptable item. It must include lots of photos to prove the wedding took place. Several shots of both spouses must exist in the album, and the images should be clear enough that both faces are recognizable.

The best documents for spouses are marriage certificates. For unmarried dependents under 21, a birth certificate is the only acceptable proof.

What Steps Are Required When the H-4 Visa Arrives?

To avoid issues with government officials, the new visa holder should verify all major information, such as:

  • Correct spelling of first and last name
  • Correct spelling of spouse's name
  • Correct date of birth
  • Correct listing of visa type
  • Valid date of visa issuance

Any mistakes will cause problems. The holder should point them out and ask for corrections immediately.

What Can a Person Do With an H-4 Visa?

The holder will enjoy several privileges available to American citizens. They can:

  • Get a state driver's license
  • Get a tax ID
  • Go to college
  • Open a bank account

The most important thing a holder cannot get is a Social Security number. This type of visa doesn't allow the holder to join the American labor force immediately. As of 2015, some holders can get a job in the United States, but the process isn't automatic.

The tax ID is called ITIN. The visa holder must send this form to the IRS address. Note that it is not the same as the tax return address. When filing tax returns, also file the W-7 form to get an ITIN. As of May 26, 2015, some H-4 visa holders can apply for a work permit and be able to work.

A person can change to a different visa status, too. The rule is that you must maintain valid status for the H-4 visa. Visa holders often change to the F-1 student visa or the H-1B nonimmigrant visa.

Visa holders who switch to the F-1 visa can obtain a work permit; however, these individuals receive oversight in the SEVIS system.

Sometimes, a switch from H-4 to F-1 is necessary. Oftentimes, this happens when the visa holder turns 21 and is no longer eligible to claim dependent status on the H-4 visa. 

Who Has an H-4 Visa?

In 2013, 96,753 people held an H-4 visa. Statistically, a person is most likely to hold one if they're from South Asian countries. Natives of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan claimed roughly 76 percent of all H-4 visas that year. The majority of them are women married to men in professions such as:

  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Technology
  • Other STEM-related fields

This outcome isn't coincidental. The explosive job market in technology fields has led to an influx of skilled South Asian professionals. The H-4 visa was created as a means of guaranteeing that the spouses of these workers could move to the United States, too.

Why Do Some Holders Call the H-4 Visa a Golden Cage?    

The limitation of this visa is that the holder cannot work. That's because such people don't have a Social Security number. Oftentimes, they also lack the listed qualifications to apply for a job. Even if they were able to satisfy the job requirements, the specifics of the H-4 prevent holders from working.

A person can't even work remotely for a company from South Asia. Even the reception of foreign money in a foreign bank account violates the rules of H-4 visas as currently written. As such, the people who have these visas feel trapped, alone in a new country and unable to integrate into society. Plus, their spouses are working long hours on new jobs, leaving the H-4 visa holder alone on a regular basis. The issue is so problematic that spousal abuse is much higher for visa holders.

In 2014 and 2015, legislators altered H-4 visa laws. The spouses of some visa holders are now able to get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Only a portion of H-4 visa holders are eligible, though.

What Determines Spouse Eligibility?

To apply for an EAD, the spouse of the visa holder must:

  • Have valid H-1 visa status
  • Maintain valid H-1 visa status
  • Must qualify under one of two categories explained below

The first category is that the spouse is the beneficiary of a valid I-140. A formerly active one that was later revoked does not qualify.

The second category is that the H-1B spouse must have extended H-1B status for more than six years under AC-21. This happens when an employer provides a Perm Labor Certification at least one year prior to the end of the sixth year of H-1B status.

Simply holding an H-1B visa for more than six years isn't good enough. The applicant must meet the conditions above.

This document doesn't need approval, but it cannot have a denial or revocation ruling against it.

What Are the Advantages of H-4 Visa EAD?

  • The visa holder does not need an official job offer to apply for an EAD
  • The EAD holder can start a business rather than work for someone else
  • The EAD holder can work for any company at any job in any profession, part-time or full-time
  • The EAD holder doesn't have to work at all if that's their choice

Note that a visa holder who starts their own company cannot accept a salary. The person can accept dividends with an inactive status.

In 2014 and again in 2014, Barack Obama's administration attempted H-4 legislation. Their belief was that the current system needed improvement. With roughly 100,000 unhappy holders, the United States had an influx of immigrants who didn't enjoy their new country. Also, these people not working were also not paying taxes, costing the government millions of dollars.

The reformed law allows H-4 visa holders to work. They must file an employment authorization request, which costs $380. The sticking point is eligibility. The only people who qualify are those whose spouses have already applied for green cards.

What Can an H-4 Visa Holder Do to Solve the Problem?

A frustrated H-4 visa recipient may qualify for other visas. That's important because once the person immigrates to the United States, they have the ability to apply for a different visa. Someone interested in going back to school can switch to the F-1 student visa. It not only allows for educational opportunities, but also liberates the holder to work on campus. Another option is to apply for an H-1B, just as the spouse has.

Can an H-4 Visa Holder File for a Green Card?

Yes, they can. The H-4 is a dual intent visa. The holder can try to find a company who will sponsor their green card application. Alternately, the holder can file a request through a family petition or any other valid method. You can safely do this without hurting your H-4 visa status.

How Can an H-4 Visa Holder Go to School?

The same problem with Social Security cards still exists. Many schools offer waivers for students from foreign countries, though. H-4 visa holders go back to school since plenty of tuition deals are available. Government grants and scholarships are great options. Also, many colleges offer in-state tuition pricing to holders. The criteria they have to meet are:

  • Married to an H-1B visa holder and listed as their dependent for at least a calendar year
  • Resident of the current state for at least one year
  • Have proof of residency

Since proof of residency is a sticking point, several options exist to prove status. They include:

  • Car registration in state
  • Current bank account in state of residence
  • House ownership or lease documents
  • State driver's license at least a year old
  • W2 forms proving state taxes paid

Qualifiers receive as much as 60 percent off their tuition, not including scholarships or grants. Once they've finished their degree, they become eligible for an H-1B visa.

How Can an H-4 Visa Holder Find Work?

A few options exist for visa holders who want to find a job. The best strategy is to network with potential employers. One of them may be willing to hire the holder and sponsor their request for an H-1B visa.

The less popular option is to find a consultant to sponsor an H-1B visa in exchange for something else. Since the consultant has all the power in such negotiations, lots of horror stories exist about such attempts. A business is more reliable than an individual, so there's less risk for the visa holder.

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