When an H-1B worker enters the US, he is likely to wish to bring him family with him. Indeed, his H-1B employment wages might be the family’s sole source of income, regardless of whether he is entering the US from abroad or simply changing his status within the US. To provide for this need, US immigration law allows the spouse and children of workers in H-1B status to enter and remain in the US on an H-4 visa. There is not cap or quota on H-4 visas.

To qualify for an H-4 visa:

  • You must be the spouse or minor child of an H-1B visa applicant;
  • The H-1B visa applicant’s visa must be approved (concurrent approval is possible, however);

In most cases, your H-1B visa will expire at the same time that the H-1B visa expires. If your H-1B family member seeks to transition to permanent residence after the expiration of his H-1B status, however, means are available to extend your stay in the US for as long as your family member is eligible to stay.

Permitted Activities

Under a valid H-4 visa, you will be permitted to:

  • Obtain a driver’s license;
  • Open bank accounts;
  • Enroll in school;
  • Apply for a social security number;
  • Apply for a tax ID; and
  • Work (by filing Form I-765, but only in certain cases where the H-1B holder is transitioning to permanent residence)

Immigration law can change rapidly, however, and at the time of this writing, the USCIS has recommended rescinding employment authorization for H-4 visa holders. If executed, this rescission is likely to affect not only future applicants but also current H-4 visa holders and those with H-4 visas in processing. It remains to be seen whether such a rescission will affect other H-4 privileges, such as applying for a social security number or a tax ID.

Petition Process

Following is a rough guide of the steps you need to take to receive an H-4 visa:

  1. Obtain a digital photo of yourself. The exact requirements for these photographs are very particular and detailed.
  2. Complete Form DS-160 online.
  3.  Print out the DS-160 petition confirmation along with a copy of your completed Form DS-160, and save these documents for your records.
  4. Pay the filing fee (currently set at $190, although it is subject to change)
  5. Make an appointment for a visa interview online, an print out the confirmation.
  6. Schedule a fingerprinting appointment for 24 to 48 hours before your visa interview. This may take place at the US embassy or consulate or at some other designated location, depending on which country you are located in.
  7. Gather together all petition documentation (see below).
  8. Attend the visa interview. If the interview is successful, your H-4 visa will be stamped onto your passport.

These procedures will be somewhat simplified if you are already in the US (in valid status) at the time you apply for H-4 status. Remember that if you have any accompanying children, they must obtain H-4 visas too.

Required Documents (for you and, if applicable, your children)

Bring the following documents with you to the visa interview:

  1. Your passport
  2. A copy of every page of your passport.
  3. A certified copy of your birth certificate
  4. A copy of Form DS-160.
  5. A copy of your interview confirmation.
  6. An original of your marriage certificate (not a copy).
  7. Form I-797A or B (your spouse’s H1B approval notice)
  8. A copy of Form I-129 from your spouse’s H-1B application
  9. A copy of your spouse’s employer’s Labor Condition petition (LCA) posting.
  10. Your spouse’s employment verification letter issued by your spouse’s employer to your spouse.
  11. Evidence of your marriage — your marriage certificate, your wedding invitation card, your wedding photo album, etc.

Some of these documents, such as your passport, are required. Others, such as your wedding photo album, are not absolutely required but could improve your chances of approval. You may be asked to provide additional documents that are not on the foregoing list.

The Visa Interview

You may be asked questions about yourself, your marriage, your spouse, your reasons for seeking an H-4 visa and your future plans. The purpose of the interview is to make sure that your marriage is legitimate and that you intend to comply with the terms of your visa. Don’t treat it as an inquisition, but do take it seriously.

Consult With a Professional

Nothing is guaranteed in life, including your visa application. Even if you enjoy a general understanding of the H-4 visa process, the old cliche’ “the devil is in the details” couldn’t be more appropriate in this instance. Your best chance of securing approval of your H-4 visa petition is to seek the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer.