Spouses of H-1B employees and unmarried children under 21 years of age are eligible for H-4 status. A child can no longer stay in the U.S. as an H-4 dependent once they turn 21. In order to remain in the U.S., the child must change to a different nonimmigrant visa status (e.g., F-1 student, B-2 visitor).
Obtaining and extending H-4 status
There are two ways family members can acquire or extend H-4 status: (A) by applying for H-4 visas at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. and then applying for H-4 admission at a U.S. port of entry or (B) by submitting a Form I-539 (and Form I-539A for each additional dependent) application to USCIS while they remain in the U.S.
|(A) H-4 entry to the U.S.||(B) H-4 in-country application|
Use this option when the family members are either currently outside the U.S. and will enter as H-4 dependents or when they are in the U.S., but plan to depart before their current statuses expire and then return in H-4 status. Family members may apply for H-4 admission with or after the H-1B employee’s arrival in the U.S.; they do not need to file applications with USCIS before applying for their visas and/or entry.
Canadian citizens do not need to apply for visas at U.S. embassies or consulates.
Citizens of all other countries are required to obtain H-4 visas from U.S. embassies or consulates. Families need to consider the waiting periods for visa interview appointments and visa issuance and plan ahead to allow enough time to obtain the necessary visas to enter the U.S.
See Option A: H-4 entry procedures.
Use this option when UH is filing an H-1B change of status petition for an employee and their dependent family members (e.g., F-2, O-3) will be in the U.S. at the time the employee’s change to H-1B status takes place. The family must file Form I-539 (and Form I-539A for each additional dependent) to apply for H-4 changes of status at the same time UH files the H-1B petition. However, if the family members are in an independent status (e.g., F-1, O-1), they can remain in that status as long as it is valid. They may file a Form I-539/I-539A to change status to H-4 after the employee’s H-4 petition is submitted, but before their current status expires.
If UH is filing an H-1B extension petition for an employee, dependents who will be in the U.S. when their current H-4 status expires must submit a Form I-539/I-539A application to extend their H-4 statuses. Dependents who will be outside the U.S. when their current H-4 status expires do not need to file Form I-539/I-539A. After the employee’s H-1B petition is approved, they need to follow the H-4 entry procedures.
USCIS must receive the Form I-539/I-539A application by the business day on or before the current status end date. If USCIS receives the Form I-539/I-539A late, dependents may accrue unlawful presence.
See Option B: H-4 in-country application procedures.
Option A: H-4 entry
Each family member needs to follow these steps to apply for an H-4 visa and admission to the U.S.
1. Apply for an H-4 visa.
Canadian citizens can skip this step and proceed to “2. Apply for H-4 admission at a U.S. port of entry” below. Individuals who already have H-4 visas that will be valid on the date they arrive in the U.S. do not need to apply for new ones and may also proceed to “2. Apply for H-4 admission at a U.S. port of entry” below.
The U.S. Department of State’s U.S. embassies and consulates website contains information on visa application requirements and instructions on how to make appointments for visa interviews. It is best for dependents to apply at the U.S. embassy/consulate having jurisdiction over their place of residence, though they may apply at any U.S. embassies/consulates worldwide that permit third country nationals’ applications. Anyone who was ever a visa overstay in the U.S. must apply for the visa at a consular office in their country of nationality.
H-4 visa application requirements differ by embassy/consulate, so family members need to check directly with the specific U.S. embassy/consulate on the requirements for the visa application if they have any questions.
Generally, all H-4 visa applications must include the following:
- DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application confirmation page;
- Visa interview appointment confirmation page;
- Proof of payment of visa fees;
- A passport-style photograph that meets DOS‘s nonimmigrant visa photo requirements;
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the H-1B employee’s authorization end date;
- Evidence of relationship to the H-1B employee:
- Marriage certificate for spouse;
- Birth certificate for each child;
- Evidence of H-1B employee’s status (copies of Form I-94, visa, approval notice, offer/support letter, etc.); and
- Any other documents required by the specific U.S. embassy or consulate.
2. Apply for H-4 admission at a U.S. port of entry.
Next, dependents apply for admission in H-4 status at a U.S. port of entry. H-4 dependents may apply for entry at the same time as or after the H-1B employee, but they may not enter the U.S. before the H-1B employee’s initial entry. Each family member must bring the following items to the port of entry:
- Evidence of the H-1B employee’s status (copies of Form I-94, visa, approval notice, offer/support letter, etc.);
- Valid H-4 entry visa in passport (N/A for Canadians);
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the H-1B authorization end date (if a passport will expire before the H-1B end date, that person will be granted a shorter period of stay);
- UH offer letter or employment confirmation letter from the UH department to show financial support;
- Marriage certificate for spouse; and
- Birth certificate for each child.
Individuals are not guaranteed entry to the U.S. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry will review all documents and ask the person about the purpose of the visit. These officers have the discretion to admit family members in H-4 status and may refer them to a more detailed secondary inspection.
When family members are admitted into the U.S. as H-4 dependents, their documents must be returned to them. CBP will issue an electronic Form I-94 for each person to access and print at the CBP’s I-94 website. The Form I-94 printout is proof of admission to and legal immigration status in the U.S.
Everyone needs to keep copies of their passport biodata/expiration pages, visas, admission stamps, and Form I-94 records permanently in case any of these documents are lost or stolen.
3. Send copies of entry documents to FSIS.
After the H-4 family members are admitted into the U.S., send FSIS the following documents for each dependent so we can update our records and check that each person was admitted properly at the port of entry:
- Copy of Form I-94 admission record from CBP‘s I-94 website;
- Copy of H-4 visa in passport (if any); and
- Copy of passport biodata page (if new/renewed).
Option B: H-4 in-country application
If family members are currently in the U.S. in a qualifying status, they can file Form I-539 and Form I-539A for each additional dependent (see the Form I-539 instructions) to apply for H-4 changes of status or extensions. If the H-1B’s spouse is applying for H-4 status, the spouse completes the Form I-539 with their own information and signs the form in Part 5. If only minor children are applying for H-4 status, the eldest child’s information is entered on the Form I-539 and each additional child completes a Form I-539A. Children 14 years of age or older must sign the Form I-539/I-539A. If the child is under 14, the H-1B employee signs the Form I-539/I-539A and provides their own information in Part 5.
The way in which the Form I-539/I-539A is filed will differ if dependents are filing it concurrently with or after an H-1B petition is filed.
|Filing Form I-539/I-539A concurrently with H-1B Petition||Filing Form I-539/I-539A after H-1B petition is filed|
The entire Form I-539/I-539A application packet and filing fee must be submitted by the UH department to FSIS with the H-1B request. Attach the following documents for each dependent to the Form I-539/I-539A:
FSIS will review the Form I-539/I-539A for any obvious errors and mail the application with the H-1B petition.
Family members can mail the Form I-539/I-539A application packet to USCIS on their own, or file the Form I-539 online for each dependent. Attach the following documents for each dependent to the Form I-539/I-539A:
If dependents are in another country and will enter the U.S. in H-4 status, they do not need to file Form I-539/I-539A. Instead, they need to follow the H-4 entry procedures.
Employment permitted for certain H-4 dependents
H-4 dependents are not eligible for employment authorization. However, an H-4 spouse is eligible to apply for work authorization with USCIS if the H-1B employee: they meet the following criteria:
- Is the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (i.e., EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4, or EB-5 petition approval) or
- Has been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the AC21.
To apply for work authorization, the H-4 spouse must file a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS. The spouse needs to carefully review the Form I-765 instructions or consult with an immigration attorney before completing and submitting the form. The Form I-765 is an H-4 spouse’s personal application for an optional benefit, so FSIS cannot assist with preparing and filing these applications. If USCIS approves the Form I-765, the H-4 spouse will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The spouse may begin working in the U.S. after receiving the EAD.
For more information, please see USCIS‘s FAQ on work authorization for H-4 spouses.
Study permitted for H-4 dependents
H-4 dependents may study in the U.S. on either a full or part-time basis. The duration of their study depends on the H-1B employee’s period of stay.