If your spouse is visiting the United States for training or work, then you may be able to accompany your spouse by applying for an H-4 visa. The H-4 visa program allows the spouse and unmarried children of an H visa holder to stay in the United States throughout the duration of the work term or training program.

To qualify for an H-4 visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You are the legal spouse of an H visa holder
  • You are the unmarried child under age 21 of an H visa holder

H visas can include the H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, and H-3 visa:

H-1B Visa: For temporary workers in the United States working in skilled professions.

H-1B1 Visa: For temporary skilled workers in the United States from Chile or Singapore.

H-2A Visa: For temporary agricultural workers in the United States.

H-2B Visa: For temporary non-agricultural workers in the United States.

H-3 Visa: For trainees and special education program students in the United States

If your spouse or parent meets any of the above requirements and has the appropriate visa, then you may qualify for an H-4 visa.

Children of H visa holders who are older than 21 are not permitted to apply for the H-4 visa. The visa is based on the assumption that you are “dependent” on the H visa holder, and children over age 21 are not considered to be dependents.

How to Apply for an H-4 Visa

The H-4 visa application process proceeds in a similar way to other non-immigrant visas to the United States.

First, you need to work through the U.S. embassy or consulate through which your spouse or parent has applied for his or her H visa. If you are a different nationality from your spouse or parent, however, then you need to apply for the H-4 visa in your home country. If you are currently in the United States, you can submit an H-4 visa application to USCIS.

Step 1) Complete Form DS-160: Once you have identified the U.S. embassy you need to work with, you need to complete form DS-160. The form is available online through your local U.S. embassy’s website. Upon completion of the form, you will receive a barcode.

Step 2) Pay the Fee: The H-4 visa comes with a fee of $190. You will need to pay this fee to move onto the next step.

Step 3) Schedule your Interview: After paying your visa application fee, you can schedule your interview with the local U.S. embassy or consulate.

Step 4) Gather Required Documents: You may need to bring all of the following documents to your interview:

  • Current passport that will remain valid throughout your stay in the United States
  • Any old passports
  • A photograph that meets the U.S. visa photo requirements
  • DS-160 form confirmation page
  • Receipt proving you have paid the visa fees
  • Interview appointment confirmation letter
  • Photocopy of your spouse or parent’s I-129 form, I-797 form, and Labor Certification Application (LCA) if applicable
  • Copy of your spouse or parent’s H visa
  • Copy of your spouse or parent’s letter of job offer from the U.S. employer
  • If your spouse or parent is already working in the United States, then you may need copies of paystubs and tax filings
  • Copy of your marriage certificate (if married to the H visa holder)
  • Other proof of a valid marriage, including photographs, receipts for wedding expenses, a list of wedding guests, and additional proof of marriage documents
  • An original birth certificate (if you’re the child of an H visa holder)

Step 5) Attend the Interview: Attend the visa interview at the local U.S. embassy or consulate. The interview is straightforward. You will be asked questions to verify your connection to the H visa holder. Your fingerprints may be taken. The interviewer also wants to verify that you do not intend to remain in the United States.

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

The H-4 visa can take 3 to 5 weeks to process. However, there can be delays depending on the H visa of your spouse or parent. If there are delays with your spouse or parent’s H visa, then your H-4 visa will take longer to process as well.

How Long Can I Stay in the United States with an H-4 Visa?

The H-4 visa allows you to stay in the United States for as long as your visa states you can stay. Typically, the H-4 visa lasts as long as the H visa of your spouse or parent.

In many cases, your spouse or parent may choose to extend the H visa. If your spouse or parent is applying for an extension, then you are also eligible to apply for an extension. You can do so by filing form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Non-Immigrant Status.

To qualify for an extension, you may also be required to submit a copy of your most recent form I-94, a copy of your spouse or parent’s form I-94, a copy of your spouse or parent’s I-129 and I797 forms, and proof of your relationship with the H visa holder (like a marriage certificate or birth certificate).

Can I Apply for a Change of Status or a Green Card with an H-4 Visa?

Applying for a change of status as an H-4 visa holder is rare. However, it is possible to change your status by receiving sponsorship from an employer or a family member. In this case, you might change your status to a different work visa or even an immigrant visa in pursuit of a green card.

What Can I Do While in the United States on an H-4 Visa?

The H-4 visa allows the visa holder to perform all of the following activities:

Enter the U.S. With or After the H Visa Holder: You can arrive in the United States with the H visa holder or after the H visa holder. You cannot arrive in the United States before the H visa holder arrives.

Leave and Return to the United States at Any Time: As an H-4 visa holder, you can leave the United States and return at any time once you are in the country on an H-4 visa. As long as your visa has not expired, and you arrived in the country with or after the H visa holder, you should have no trouble leaving and returning to the United States.

Study: H-4 visa holders are permitted to enroll in academic courses or programs. Generally, you have the same study rights as an F-1 student visa holder. However, it’s generally recommended that you apply for an F-1 student visa if you get accepted to study in the United States.

Work: As of 2015, H-4 visa holders are permitted to work in the United States under certain conditions. You need to receive an EAD, which first requires a job offer. You are permitted to work if your spouse or parent is on an H-1B visa, although you are not permitted to work if your spouse or parent has an H-1B1 visa, an H-2A visa, an H-2B visa, or an H-3 visa.

By following the guide above, you can simplify the process of applying for – and receiving – your H-4 visa.