What is an H4 visa?
The H4 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that enables the holder to live temporarily in the US, whilst the primary visa holder has permission to be there on their H Visa. For example, the main visa holder may be in the US for work or training purposes and have their spouse or dependent child with them under an H4 Dependents visa. Under this visa, the spouse or dependent may travel with the primary visa holder to the United States to either live temporarily in the US or reunite with them if their stay is relatively long.
Who can apply for the H4 Visa?
The H4 Visa will most commonly be granted to the immediate family members of a nonimmigrant H Visa holder, who are in the United States temporarily for work or training. An immediate family member is defined as either the spouse, civil partner, or any unmarried children under the age of 21. Part of the requirement for the H4 Visa is to be able to provide substantial evidence that you are related to the main visa holder.
What are the H Visa categories?
To qualify for an H4 Visa, you need to be an immediate family member of a primary holder of an H category visa. There are five different categories that this can fall under, all of which are non-immigrant visas which are as follows:
- H1B: The H1B Visa is granted to people who have been given permission to work in the United States based on their specialty occupation. This may be a role in which a US-based employer requires the academic, theoretical, or technical expertise of a foreign citizen.
- H1B1: The H1B1 Visa is a temporary visa for individuals in specialty occupations who are from either Chile or Singapore
- H2A: The H2A Visa is granted to people who have expertise that is temporarily required in agricultural work. This could include workers with experience in farming and harvesting
- H2B: The H2B Visa is granted to people who have expertise in non-agricultural work. This could include hospitality workers, laborers, and conservation workers
- H3: The H3 Visa is granted to people who are traveling to the US for training purposes that they cannot achieve in their own country, or for special education training for teaching children with disabilities.
If you are in the US on a different visa and would like to switch over to the H4 Visa status, you can try to do so by completing form I-539 and sending it to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The application process for an H4 Visa
The application process for an H4 Visa can only begin once the primary H Visa holder has received their approval. This may be your spouse, civil partner, or parent. The process for this application will usually flow as follows:
- Fill out and complete Form DS-160 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form). Be sure to print the confirmation page, as you will need to bring this with you to your visa interview
- Pay the required application fee, and keep a copy of your receipt as proof of payment
- Schedule an appointment for your visa interview
- Gather all of the supporting documents you require to submit with your application, and provide these via the online form
- Attend your visa interview, providing as much evidence as you can as to why they should grant you your visa
Depending on your interview, you may receive an immediate decision for your application. Alternatively, you may need to wait for a period of time, which they will advise you of during your interview
If / when your H4 Visa is approved, you may begin making arrangements to travel to the US. When you arrive in the US, you will be required to present evidence that you are eligible to enter the country and prove that you intend to abide by all of the conditions on your H4 Visa. You should carry all of this documentation with you in your carry-on luggage for an easier and faster transition upon arrival in the US
Documents required for an H4 Visa application
As with most visas, there is a substantial amount of paperwork and documentation required to support your case for an H4 Visa application. Depending on your application, you may require further documentation, but most applications will include the following:
- A completed DS-160 application form
- A valid passport and / or travel document with a blank available page
- Two US-immigration style facial photographs
- Proof of H4 Visa application payment
- A copy of the primary visa holders H Visa
- A copy of the primary visa holders Form I-129
- A copy of the primary visa holders Form I-797
- A copy of the primary visa holders Labor Certification Application
- A copy of the primary visa holders passport or travel document
- A confirmation letter from the primary visa holders former and current employers, outlining their employment status
- Proof of where the primary visa holder is living in the US (if traveling separately)
- Proof of primary visa holders wages and tax payments (if they have already begun working in the US)
- Birth certificates for the children, proving relationship with the primary visa holder
- Marriage certificate for the spouse or civil partner, proving relationship with the primary visa holder
Extending an H4 Visa
Based on your personal circumstances, you may be required to extend your H4 Visa. You can do so by submitting Form I-539, and should do so at least 45 days before your current H4 Visa expires Before attempting to do so, however, you should identify whether or not you would be eligible, based on the following criteria:
- You originally entered the US with the appropriate permission
- You have maintained a clean immigration record, and have not committed an unlawful or disqualifying act
- There are no other reasons why you must leave the US prior to applying for an extension
- Your passport is valid for your intended extension of stay in the US
Working on an H4 Visa
Some H4 dependent spouses can be granted employment authorization. To qualify to work whilst on an H4 visa, you will need to meet the following criteria:
- Your spouse holds an H1B Visa and is seeking lawful permanent residence status through an employment sponsor
- Your spouse holds an approved Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker)
- Your spouse was granted H1B status for more than six years under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act
You will be able to do the following on an H4 Visa:
- Apply for a drivers license
- Open a bank account
- Receive an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in order to pay taxes
- Change your visa status to a new category if you receive an eligible job offer
It is important to note that immigration laws frequently change, and it is always best to consult with an immigration attorney for the most updated advice on your personal situation.
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There is no exact timeframe for an H4 Visa, as it depends on the resources available at the local US Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Any errors or inadequacies with your application have the ability to delay the process, so it is in your best interest to make sure that you have all of the required documentation, and that they are all completely filled out and accurate.
An average timeframe for a response on your status would be between 30-90 days from the date of your original application. It may be possible to speed up your application with a premium processing service, but this is not a guaranteed option.
Because the H4 Visa is a dual intent visa, it means that it may be possible for you to apply for lawful permanent residence (a green card) without breaching any immigration rules. Some of the routes you could take to achieve this are as follows:
- The primary visa holder can apply for a green card, and then sponsor you under an F2A Visa (family-based green card route)
- Your spouse may receive US citizenship, and then sponsor you on an IR1 or CR1 Visa (marriage-based green card)
- Your employer sponsors you for an EB1, EB2, or EB3 Visa
- You submit a self-petition using the EB-1A, EB-2 green card alongside a National Interest Waiver
If you need additional time in the United States with your spouse or parent, your H4 visa can be renewed or extended by filing Form I-539. In order to renew your visa, you will have to re-submit any evidence proving your relationship with the primary H visa holder.