Under America’s new immigration rules, H-4 visa holders are permitted to work in the United States after obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The document, like a Green Card, authorizes you to work at any legal position in the United States throughout the term of your visa.

Before 2015, if you were in the United States on an H-4 visa, you were not permitted to work in the country. Today’s H-4 visa rules, however, allow you to enroll in academic studies, get a driver’s license, or open a bank account. If you choose to apply for an EAD, then you can also work.

The H-4 visa is for the spouse and children of H-1B visa holders. If your spouse is in the United States on an H-1B work visa, then you may be able to work after obtaining an EAD.

H-4 visa holders include the spouse and unmarried children under age 21 of an H-1B visa holder. However, only the spouse of the H-1B visa holder is permitted to work. The children of an H-1B visa holder who hold an H-4 visa are not permitted to work.

It’s also important to note that the EAD is only available to the spouses of H-1B visa holders and not the spouse of other work visa holders. If your spouse has another type of U.S. work visa – like an H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, or H-3 visa, then you are not permitted to apply for an EAD.

How Does an H-4 EAD Work?

If you are the spouse of an H-1B visa holder who wishes to work in the United States, then an H-4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) allows you to do that. Here are the basic rules governing how an EAD works for H-4 visa holders:

  • There is no cap for the EAD, which means any spouse of an H-1B visa holder can apply and receive the EAD as long as they fulfill the requirements; there is no annual limit to the number of EADs given out
  • With an EAD, your employer is not required to treat you like a foreign worker; the employer does not need to have a Labor Condition Application, for example, nor do they have to petition USCIS – you are treated like any American worker
  • The EAD allows you to work in any sector of the economy in any legal position; unlike an H-1B visa and similar work visas, you are not exclusively forced to work in jobs that require extraordinary ability
  • You do not need an active job offer prior to applying for an EAD under an H-4 visa; you can begin searching for a job after receiving your EAD
  • If you have an H-4 EAD, you are allowed to start your own business within the United States and employ people

H-4 Visa EAD Requirements

Not all H-4 visa holders automatically qualify for an EAD. There are two major requirements you’ll need to meet prior to receiving an EAD as an H-4 visa holder:

  • The H-1B visa holder (your spouse) must have an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or be in the process of having this form approved
  • The H-1B visa holder (your spouse) must have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the AC21; under AC21, H-1B non-immigrants seeking employment-based lawful permanent residence may be eligible to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year H-1B period of admission limitation.

Once the H-1B visa holder has been granted that status under the AC21 Act, the employer must file the PERM Labor Certification and Form I-140 at least 365 days before the employee reaches the 6 year H-1B cap. The H-4 visa holder can apply for the EAD only after these steps have been completed.

The H-1B individual must have filed Form I-140 for the H-4 visa holder to begin the EAD application process.

Once you have verified all of the above requirements, you can move forward with the H-4 EAD application.

How to Apply for an H-4 EAD

Essentially, applying for an EAD involves gathering certain documents and forms together and then submitting those forms to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Documents required for an EAD include:

  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  • Receipt proving you paid the application fees ($410 for a standard H-4 EAD application)
  • Copy of your most recent Form I-94 proving you are legally in the United States on an H-4 visa
  • Form I-797 and Form I-539 proving that your stay in the United States has been extended
  • Two identical photographs that comply with U.S. visa photo requirements
  • Marriage certificate or similar document proving your relationship to the H-1B visa holder
  • A copy of the H-1B visa holder’s Form I-140, Form I-129, Form I-797, and Form I-94
  • Copy of the H-1B visa holder’s current passport
  • Proof that Form I-140 or the PERM certification application were filed for the H-1B visa holder at least 365 days before the visa reached its six-year limit (this proof can include dated correspondence with the Department of Labor, including letters and emails)
  • Form G-1145 (optional); you can file this form if you wish to receive electronic notifications on your EAD application

How to Renew an EAD as an H-4 Visa Holder

If you have previously applied for and received an EAD as an H-4 visa holder, then renewing the EAD is easier than applying for a totally new one. To renew your Employment Authorization Document, you will need all of the following documents:

  • Copy of your previous EAD
  • Your passport
  • Your birth certificate
  • A photograph that complies with U.S. visa photo requirements

Additional documents may be required for certain H-4 visa holders.

How Long Does It Take to Process an H-4 EAD?

Processing times vary widely for an EAD for H-4 visa holders. Some H-4 visa holders receive the EAD within as little as 30 days. Others have to wait as long as 90 days.

Generally, it will take between 4 to 12 weeks to receive your approved Employment Authorization Document. If certain documents are missing, or if the H-1B visa holder still needs to complete certain steps regarding AC21 status, then the process can take longer.

During the time your EAD is being processed, it’s generally not recommended that you travel outside the United States, as USCIS may send important documents to you. USCIS may also request you send additional documents. However, traveling outside the United States is not forbidden during this time.

Restrictions for the H-4 EAD

Once you have been approved for an EAD as an H-4 visa holder, you face few restrictions on the U.S. job market. As mentioned above, you can apply for and receive any job in any field – assuming it’s a legal profession.

Unlike an H-1B visa and other visas, there is no requirement for you to hold a professional job or job that requires specialized education.

Additionally, employers do not need to treat you any differently than they would treat a U.S. applicant. Unlike when hiring a non-immigrant foreign worker, the employer does not need to complete certification with the Department of Labor.

Ultimately, H-4 visa holders with an EAD can work in any sector at any position. Additionally, H-4 visa holders with an EAD do not have to work. You can receive an EAD and continue being unemployed, for example. However, you are free to get a job at any point as long as you have the EAD.

By following the guide above, you can ensure your H-4 EAD application process goes as smoothly as possible.