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Guide to H4 Dependent Visa – Work, Study, Life

America attracts a lot of high skilled talent and offers a variety of work visa options for them to work and live there. H1B Visa is one of the most popular temporary work visa types. Many of the H1B holders want to bring their dependent family members along with them, when they move to America to work. Luckily, US immigration system offers H4 dependent visa for the spouse and children under 21 of the H1B holder. H4 visa allows dependent spouse and children to travel to US along with H1B holder and stay in US as a temporary resident.

In this page, we review all the basics of H4 Visa like what is H-4 visa, how to get H4 Visa, visa stamping requirements, topics related to living in US like studying options, taxes, driving, etc. on H4 visa such as restrictions on H4 visa related to work, studying options and other topics.

What is H4 Visa ?

H4 Visa or H4 dependent visa is the US visa category given to the spouse and children ( under 21 years of age) of all H visa holders such as H1B Visa, H1B1 Visa, H2A, H2B and H3.  H4 visa is treated as dependent visa, meaning its validity and status are tied to the primary H visa holder. USCIS classifies it as given to Family of H1B visa. Unlike H1B Visa Cap, that has annual limit of 85,000 per year, H4 visas do not have any annual limit. As long as the H1B holder is counted towards H1B cap and got visa to work in US, H4 visa holders can join them and go to US.

As H4 visa is a dependent visa, its approval duration is tied to the H1B visa holder approval. For example, if H1B visa holder gets 3 years approval to work in US, then H4 dependent would also get same amount of 3 years validity to stay along with the primary H1B holder. H4 visa allows the dependents to live in the US, get drivers license, have a bank account and do many other things. But, it also has certain restrictions related to ability to work, get social security number. We will look at those in detail in later sections. Also, for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to H1B holder when we talk about dependents. The same applies to H1B1, H2A, H2B, and H3 visa holders.

What are requirements for H4 Visa ?

The fundamental requirement to get H4 visa, is to be either married to H1B holder as spouse or be a child of H1B holder and under 21 years of age. During visa interview at a US Consulate or application to USCIS for H4 Change of status, you would need to submit all the proofs related to your relationship with the H1B holder. Below are some common documents that would be required.

  • Proof of Relationship
    • Marriage Certificate ( if you are applying as Spouse)
    • Wedding photos ( if newly married )
    • Birth Certificate ( if applying as child )
  • Required Primary H1B visa holder documents
    • Passport
    • Copy of Visa
    • Copy of I-797 approval notice from USCIS
    • Copy of I-94 ( if living in US)
    • Copy of employment offer letter
    • Copy of pay stubs or pay slips ( if already working in US)

How to Apply for H4 Visa ?

The process to apply for H4 Visa depends on the physical location where the H4 visa application currently lives. If the H4 applicant lives outside of US, then they need to apply for H4 Visa at the nearest US Consulate or US Embassy. Unlike, if the H4 applicant is already living in US on a different visa status, then they need to apply for H4 Change of Status with USCIS. Let’s look at each of the processes.

H4 Visa Process – Applicant Living Outside of US

If the H4 visa applicant is staying in living outside of US, they need to apply for US Visa at a Consulate or Embassy. Below is the high level process to apply for US visa at a consulate or embassy .

Steps for H4 Visa Interview, Stamping

  1. Fill out Online Non-immigrant US Visa Application Form, also called as DS-160 form
  2. Pay required US Visa fee for H4 visa stamping.
  3. Book appointment at a Visa Application Center (VAC) to give Biometrics ( fingerprints, photo)
  4. Book appointment for in-person Visa Interview
  5. Give Biometrics, Attend US Visa interview on the booked appointment date
  6. Collect Passport with US Visa glued in it. ( assuming H4 visa was approved)

H4 Visa Documents Checklist for Interview, Stamping

The H4 visa applicant need to carry relevant documents to prove their identity, the marital relationship with the H1B visa holder and relevant birth documents of the child, if applying for children. Below is the complete list of documents

  • Valid Passport
  • Passport photo as per Photo specifications ( digital copy for DS-160)
  • Original Marriage Certificate
  • Original Birth Certificate ( if applicant is child, and under 21 years)
  • Photos of Wedding, Wedding invitation ( if newly married)
  • Appointment Letters – US Visa Interview, Biometrics
  • DS-160 form submission Confirmation letter
  • Primary H1B Holder’s Passport copy
  • Primary H1B holder’s I-797 approval notice from USCIS
  • Pay Stubs or Pay slips of H1B holder ( if already working in US)
  • Employment Verification Letter from H1B holder’s employer
  • (Optional) Visa Fee payment receipt
  • (Optional) H1B Holder’s Tax Returns, if already working in US
  • (Optional) I-94 Arrival / Departure Record Copy of the H1B holder, if already in US

H4 Visa Interview Questions

When you apply for H4 visa at a US Consulate or US Embassy, you would be interviewed by a Consular Officer. They would interview you in person to understand your background, validate your identity, relationship with H1B holder, etc. Below are some of the common questions that they can ask during the interview. These are not complete list, but gives you an idea of what to expect. We have divided them into sections so that it is easier.

  • Questions about Applicant & Purpose of Travel
    • What is the purpose of your travel to US ?
    • What are your qualifications ?
    • What do you plan to do in US ?
    • Do you plan to work in US ?
    • Where are you living now ?
    • What is your current employment status ?
    • What is the purpose of getting H4 visa ?
    • How will you support financially ?
  • Questions about relationship & marriage
    • How did you meet your spouse ?
    • How long have you been married ?
    • Was yours an arranged marriage or love marriage ?
    • How long have you known each other ?
    • Is your marriage properly registered or not ?
    • What is your spouse date of birth ?
    • Who all do you plan to plan to live in US ?
    • Where does your spouse stay currently ?
  • Questions about H1B Spouse & their Work
    • Who is your spouse’s employer ?
    • what kind of work does your spouse do ?
    • How long has he been working for his current company ?
    • What is your spouse’s salary ?
  • General Misc Questions
    • Why should we give you H4 Visa ?
    • What is your plan after your H4 visa expires ?
    • Did you have any US Visa rejections before ?
    • Did anyone apply for a Green Card before on your behalf ?
    • When is your child’s birthday ?
    • How old is your child ?
    • Where does your child study ?

H4 Visa Process – Applicant Living in US

If the H4 visa applicant is already living in US on another non-immigrant US visa, and maintaining proper status, then they can apply for change of status(COS) to H4 Visa by submitting an application for the same with USCIS. Below are the steps for the same and required documents.

Steps for H4 Visa Change of Status with USCIS

  1. Complete form I-539, Application for Extension or Change of Status. You can either fill it online or fill out physical form and mail it.
  2. If you used physical form I-539, then you need to mail the application to relevant USCIS Location based on the H1B holders application receipt number.
  3. After you file, you would get a receipt notice to track the status of your H4 COS application
  4. (Optional) Attend Biometrics for I-539 form as needed. USCIS has waived biometrics for H4 visas from May 2021 for two years. But, on a case by case basis, they may issue biometrics appointment.
  5. Get H4 Approval Notice with I-94 that indicates your new status and duration of the same, if approved by USCIS.

USCIS is yet to introduce Premium Processing for H4 Visa, H4 EAD . The bill was signed in 2020, but so far USCIS has not completed the regulatory process for H4 processing processing. Once that is done, H4 holders can upgrade to premium processing for faster decision on their case.

H4 Visa Documents Checklist for COS Application with USCIS

The H4 Applicant need to submit all required documents along with I-539 form, when they send the application to USCIS. Below are the required documents checklist.

  • Completed I-539 Form and I-539A form for Children
  • I-539 form Fees of $370 USD ( no need of Biometrics fee until May 2023)
  • Copy of Marriage Certificate
  • Copy of Passport of Applicant
  • Documents supporting H4 applicant’s current visa status like below
    • if F1 student, I-20 Copy, Transcripts
    • if on Work visa like L1, copy of approval notice of L1, Visa stamp copy
    • if on Visitor Visa like B2, copy of the Visa Stamp
  • Copy of H4 applicant’s I-94 Arrival/ Departure record
  • Primary H1B Applicant’s I-797 Approval Notice.
  • Primary H1B Applicant’s Pay stubs, Employment Verification letter
  • I-94 Arrival / Departure Record Copy of the H1B holder
  • (Optional) H1B Holder’s Tax Returns, if worked in US for over a year.

How does H4 Visa look like ?  

  • If you apply for H4 Visa stamp outside of US, you get a US visa foil glued in your passport by the US Consulate. Check out Sample H4 Visa Stamp by US Consulate
  • If you have got H4 status by applying for Change of Status within US, you will get a H4 approval notice, that is basically a form I-797A that state your details, and validity of H4 status, including the I-94. Check Sample H4 Visa Approval Notice with I-94

What is Biometrics Process for H4 Visa Applicants in US ? Suspended ?

In early 2019, USCIS introduced New I-539 form, with Biometrics as an additional step under Trump administration. But, in May 2021, Biden administration suspended the H4 Biometrics for two years until May 2023. If you file H4 COS or Extension application after May 2021, you do not need to attend biometrics by default. On a case by case basis, USCIS may issue biometrics appointment based on their discretion. If you do not get a biometrics notice, you do not have to attend the same.

Work Options for H4 Visa Holders – H4 EAD

Can H4 Visa Holders work in US ?

Not all H4 visa holders are allowed to work in US. Only certain H4 visa holders, who satisfy certain requirements can work in US.  DHS gives employment authorization (EAD) to work in US for certain H4 Visa holders, whose spouse on H1B satisfies one of the below two :

  • Have an approved I-140, which is the immigration petition for foreign citizens to get Green Card or Permanent Residency in USA.
  • Have H1B visa status extended for the spouse beyond 6 years under AC21 Act, which allows H1B holders seeking Green Card to work and stay in USA beyond 6 years, if their Green Card or Permanent Residency Application is Pending.

Work as freelancer at home, get paid on H4 ?

In general, H4 holders are not allowed to work, unless they qualify for H4 EAD. You cannot work part time either as freelancer or from home without having H4 EAD.

Can H4 Holders start a company ?

If you are eligible for H4 EAD, then you can start a company and employ people as well as H4 EAD holder.  If you do not have H4 EAD, then you cannot start company as general H4 visa holder.

How to apply for H4 EAD to work in US ?

 If the H4 visa holder qualifies for H4 EAD, then they can apply for employment authorization document (EAD) with USCIS using form I-765.  For step by step instructions,  Read How to apply for H4 EAD, Biometrics

How does H4 EAD ( Employment) Card look like ?

Once you apply for H4 EAD and it is approved, you get a H4 Approval Notice in mail, along with a H4 EAD Physical Card, that tells the validity of how long you can work. It looks like a driving license card with details of the H4 holder, with photo, including work authorization category, validity, etc. For complete details, check out Sample H4 EAD Approval Notice  and Sample H4 EAD Card by USCIS

Can H4 holders Volunteer, if they cannot work in US ?

Yes, H4 visa holders can volunteer in US with any non-profit organizations.  These volunteer positions should be unpaid and offered to general US citizens and green card holders as well.  They key requirement is that they should not be paid or avail any monetary benefits.

Study in US on H4 Visa

Can you study on H4 Visa in US ? MS, MBA, Online Courses ?

Yes, you can study on H4 Visa in US, there are no restrictions as such. You can apply to US Universities or community colleges to study MS, MBA, online degree seeking courses, or even short term courses as well. Also, you may be eligible to avail some benefits such as in-state tuition fee in state universities in certain cases. Read Advantages of Studying on H4 Visa, In-state Tuition  

Can H4 Holders work part time On-Campus during Study ?

In general, they cannot work on campus in part time jobs, unless, the H4 holder is eligible for H4 EAD. If eligible for H4 EAD, they are free to work on campus or off campus, it does not matter as they do not have any restrictions like F1 visa holders to work only on campus.

Do H4 holders get CPT or OPT to work ?

No, H4 holders can study in US, but are not eligible to use CPT ( Curricular Practical Training) or Optional Practical Training (OPT), including Day 1 CPT. Both CPT and OPT are primarily given for F1 Student visa holders.

Living in US for H4 –  Driving, SSN, Taxes, ITIN

Can I get Driver’s License as H4 Visa Holder to drive in US ?

Yes, you can get driver’s license in US and can drive in US. You will need to take required driver’s license test as required by the US state that you are living in.  

Can I get Social Security Number(SSN) as H4 Visa Holder ?

In general, as H4 visa holders are not allowed to work, they are not eligible for SSN, unless they qualify for H4 EAD. If you are eligible for H4 EAD, then you can either apply for it directly using your EAD application or apply for it separately at SSN office. Check H4 EAD SSN Application Process, Documents.  For taxation purposes, H4 holders can apply for ITIN Number.

How to file Taxes for H4 ? How to apply ITIN ?

H4 visa holders need Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file taxes. ITIN is a unique number given by IRS. It is only used for federal tax purposes and cannot be used to work.  ITIN cannot be applied beforehand, you need the actual tax return to apply for it and it is used for claiming H4 dependent benefits of H1 visa holders. To get ITIN, understand process, read How to apply for ITIN ? File Taxes and ITIN FAQs for H4 Holders

Open Bank Account on H4 ? Debit Card, Credit Card ?

Yes, H4 holders can open bank account in US. Requirements to open bank account vary by bank.  Usually they would ask for H4 status documents like approval notice, H4 visa stamping, I-94, Spouse approval notices, etc. You can also get a debit card from the bank.  Regarding credit card, some restrictions apply and you may get an add-on card only.

Sample H4 Visa Documents


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