Unmarried children under 21 years of age and spouses of H-1B employees are eligible for H-4 status. children can no longer stay in the U.S. as H-4 dependents 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 & 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 an I-539 application to USCIS while they remain in the U.S.
|(A) H-4 entry to the U.S.||(B) H-4 in-country application|
|This option is most appropriate 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 worker’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 should 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 if 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 worker’s change to H-1B status takes place. The family must file Form I-539 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 an I-539 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 should submit an I-539 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 — after the worker’s H-1B petition is approved, they should follow the H-4 entry procedures.
USCIS must receive the I-539 application by the business day on or before the current status end date. If USCIS receives the I-539 late, dependents may accrue unlawful presence.
See Option B: H-4 in-country application procedures.
Option A: H-4 entry
Each family member should 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 make appointments for a visa interviews. Dependents should try 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 should 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:
|2||Apply for H-4 admission at a U.S. port of entry.
Next, dependents should 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 worker, but they may not enter the U.S. before the H-1B employee’s initial entry. Each family member should bring the following items to the port of entry:
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 should be returned and they should each receive an admission date stamp with the notations “H-4” and a date indicating the period they are authorized to stay in the U.S. The CBP officer should instruct each person to access and print an I-94 arrival record on CBP’s I-94 website. The admission stamps with notations and the I-94 printouts are proof of admission to and legal immigration status in the U.S. In some cases, a person may be issued a paper I-94 card at entry, but CBP is phasing those out. If anyone is issued a paper I-94, that card is evidence of legal status in the U.S.
Everyone should keep copies of their passport biodata/expiration pages, visas, admission stamps, and 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 us 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:
Option B: H-4 in-country application
If family members are already in the U.S. in a qualifying status, they can file Form I-539 (see the 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 should complete the I-539 with their own information and sign the form in Part 5. If only minor children are applying for H-4 status, the eldest child’s information should be entered on the form; children 14 years or older may sign in Part 5. If the child is under 14, the H-1B employee should sign the I-539 and provide their own information in Part 5.
The way in which the I-539 is filed will differ if dependents are filing it concurrently with or after an H-1B petition:
|Filing I-539 Concurrently with H-1B petition||Filing I-539 After H-1B petition|
|The entire I-539 application packet should be submitted by the UH department to FSIS with the H-1B request. Attach the following documents for each dependent to the I-539:
FSIS will review the I-539 for any obvious errors and return it with the completed H-1B petition to the sponsoring unit. At that time, the H-1B employee should submit a check or money order for the I-539 filing fee to the department and the department should attach the fee to the I-539 before mailing the entire packet to USCIS.
|Family members should mail the I-539 application packet to USCIS on their own. They should attach the following documents for each dependent to the I-539:
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. Instead, they should follow the H-4 entry procedures.
Employment for some H-4 dependents
H-4 children and most H-4 spouses are not eligible for employment authorization. However, an H-4 spouse may apply for work authorization with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if the H-1B worker has:
- 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
- Received an H-1B extension beyond the usual 6-year maximum based on a permanent labor certification application or I-140 petition having been filed on their behalf at least 365 days prior to the end of the sixth year in H-1B status.
To apply for work authorization, the H-4 spouse must file a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS. The spouse should carefully review the I-765 instructions or consult with an immigration attorney before completing and submitting the form. The 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 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 worker’s period of stay.