Best ways H4 dependent visa holders can work in the USA

How H4 Dependent Visa Holders Can Work in the USA

A life in the USA, is a desirable one for a lot of Indians. It gives many a chance at a better job, better life and even an opportunity to live their American dream. In fact, living and working in the US, has become a sign of success and a right of passage, for many NRI bachelors, into the elite status of a great catch!

How many times have you heard a marriage alliance being described with its single most significant virtue – Ladka NRI hain, Umreeka mein kaam karta hain! (The groom is an NRI and works in the USA!).

You see, the US still brings up images of Shah Rukh Khan serenading his lady love from the gorgeous Brooklyn bridge or the Bachchans living in a mansion with white people bringing them their morning tea. There is something about that picture that still attract many parents to desire a dollar’d life for their children.

So it happens. Every year H1B work visa holders gather up their annual vacation leave and make the trip back home for a Whatsappchat” mangni & pat byah. And every year, a young Indian girl travels across the oceans to land up in an unknown country with a man she barely knows. She becomes an H4 visa holder – the dependent spouse. While such a visa status is not exclusive for women, of course, but they constitute the largest number of dependent visa holders.

What makes, being an H4 dependent spouse, especially difficult?

Well, it starts with the realization that there is no red Ferrari, no large mansion and the place she will now call home is a city with a population of ten.

And it certainly doesn’t help that the ever friendly United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, lovingly known as Immigration, have these rules that render the current 100,000 H4 Visa holders bound to their homes.

They are not allowed to work or earn anything, not even from online or stay-at-home jobs that can help them gain some measure of financial independence. There are no Social Security Numbers for them and the only thing they are literally allowed to do, outside home, is shop for groceries. Talk about regressive!

Many such dependents, most of whom are forced housewives, have excellent qualifications and probably even had successful careers before they were transformed into a perpetual state of inactivity. The archaic laws prevent these legal immigrants from any opportunities.

The land of dreams often turns into a nightmare, for the dependent spouse, who, in the best case scenario, has a compassionate partner who helps her through the depression of feeling lonely and worthless. In its worst form, there are known cases of emotional or even physical abuse due to a total lack of independence.

While there have been attempts to allow for certain concessions in the rules for H4 Visa holders, the conditions for those concessions are still very rigid. The road to independence is still convoluted. Delhi still bahut dooor hain!

However, here is an attempt to list the various ways an H4 Visa holder can find a way, however long and winding, towards a satisfactory life.
 

Path from H4 to freedom

 

Let’s talk about EAD baby!

Starting May of 2015, the US Government took a step towards making things right. The USCIS director Leon Rodriguez announced that certain H4 Visa holders would be allowed to work in the US as long as – here’s the catch – certain conditions are met. As per the new rules, the H4 dependent spouses are allowed to apply for I-765 or Employment Authorization Card, which is a temporary work permit, as long as the principal H1B holder satisfies one of the conditions (Ref. From USCIS.gov).

1) Are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or

2) Have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. The Act permits H-1B non-immigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.

There are a lot of Sections and clauses, here, that require a lobotomy to understand. But for now you can go for these brief explanations.

The first one allows EAD application by H4 spouses of those H1B individuals who are going green, if you will. That means a PERM labor certification has been filed already and an I-140 has been approved.

The second are for spouses of those H1B holders who have already applied for permanent residence and are now on H1B extension beyond the first 6 years.

For either one, the H1B needs to be valid for ones’ spouse to apply.

While it really helps the spouses of all the workers who are on their way to the Hulk card, it still ignores the many others whose spouses are simply on H1B and nowhere near a permanent residence application. But it is at least a bone.
 

All I need is a miracle, all I need is H1B

It is possible, though difficult, that you find an employer who can sponsor your H1B. The only problem with this is that it is a hard enough economy to find an employer, let alone find one who will be willing to sponsor your H1B.

To make matters worse, you cannot be seen, heard or even thought to be working for them until your H1B is approved. Nonetheless, there are many well qualified dependents who could possess a skill very dear to some company. Like Apple will probably offer you a job if you possess the technical expertize to design a camera that screams at people who pout on selfies. They might even send a basket of edible arrangements with half eaten apples along with an H1B.
 

Ode to a degree in H4

It is possible to get into a degree program while in H4. The advantage is that you don’t have to pay the extra international student fees and you can always get enrolled in an in-state college for even cheaper tuition.

Getting a degree, while in H4, isn’t a remarkable step towards getting a job since you don’t have the luxury of applying for an OPT (Optional Practical Training) like your F1 fellows. For those who think I am just reading off the English alphabet, here’s a crash course.

OPT just makes the transition, from a student F1 to an H1B employee, less dramatic. Companies can employ someone in F1-OPT and have a good one year to process their H1B. With your H4, however, companies won’t have the convenience of hiring first and then processing a work visa, ‘coz the US Government is very clear on its thou shall not worketh policy.

Nevertheless, here’s a plan that may help you. While in H4, you can choose a program that can train you with a job skill. You can then apply for an EAD as your H1B partner becomes eligible for a green card application (I-140 approved). Totally twisted like jalebi. But just like one, the end result may be delicious after all.

Or you can apply for H1B sponsorable companies directly. But good luck on that!
 

Stairway to H1B, through F1 or J1 visa

This is the most straightforward path to a job. Say you know the University and the program you want to pursue. You can start studying, under your valid H4 status and make sure you satisfy certain conditions for a change of status to an F1 or J1.

A change of status differs from a visa. To know what each means, please talk to the office of International students, at your University, follow the USCIS page and make sure you have said all your prayers. So, here are the conditions.

  • That your spouse has a valid H1B.
  • You have a valid approved I-20 from your University and a I-901 SEVIS receipt.
  • You can travel outside the US to get a visa stamped for F1 or J1, as long as you have an I-20 or a DS-2019 form and the I-901 receipt. It is strongly recommended that you speak with the International Office of your University before you set sail. And it is most definitely recommended that you come back to India, to get it stamped, if you really want to get it stamped outside of the US. If it is some country other than India, you better talk to the US consulate in that country before you go.
  • If you want a change of status from within US, then you should most definitely meet with the International Office and use their immense knowledge to know how and when to file for a I-539 form. There are travel restrictions that you must keep in mind.
  • Whatever you do, make sure you have all your papers ready by visiting your International Office and please please PLEASE don’t mess up your chances by illegally working while your F1 is yet to be approved.

Talk to the experts before you take any step. Basically just camp outside the University International Office to save on commute!

Working while on F1 requires you to have an F1 Visa stamped for in-campus jobs.

And of course, once you get your F1 status approved, it’s then a simple process to get an OPT (or CPT) upon graduation. You can then obtain a job and get your H1B sponsored. Just make sure your job matches your field of study. A Physics major applying for a chef’s job may just be given a warm hug and no visa.

You can even explore other visa categories for a change of status. There are the J1 and O1, each of which will claim a kidney and a limb! Just kidding. They won’t need your limb.

A change of status to J1 may require you to consider the possibility of applying for a waiver from going back to your home country for two years.

Just remember that any change requires the undesirable possibility of administrative complications. If any of your visa requests happens to get rejected, your stay in the US may get jeopardized.
 

Country roads could take you home

This final solution is always at your disposal.

The Indian economy is booming, as we all know and there is now a surge of people returning back home (Read Why NRIs are returning?-The Reverse Brain Drain).

Women are finding ways to explore the balance of family demands and active professions (Read Balancing Motherhood vs Career) and people are even looking at innovative measures towards financial independence from home (Read Jobs for stay-at-home Moms and Dads).

Not to mention the limits that Indian women have crossed to be involved in some of the most challenging professions in this country (Read Best jobs for women- A few or limitless?).

Maybe it is worth to consider the repercussions of a life without financial independence that dependents, most of whom are women, are facing everyday in the US. Maybe it is time to consider how loneliness and frustrations can possibly lead to more dangerous effects like depression. And maybe you consider the possibility of making a life back home in India (Read NRI checklist to return home).

Instead of jumping around between F1, H4, J1 and all the visas that sound like chess notations, you and your spouse could always choose to come back home- you know the land where the only status anyone will care about is the one on your Facebook?

In conclusion, life in the US is not easy. Especially not if you are left at the mercy of an individual who holds the key to your existence and a system which prevents you from being free. The price of living as an NRI should not come at the cost of your self. Here’s to hoping that you find a way to do what makes you happy wherever you are – on a Pin Code here or a Zip Code there!

Meanwhile, here are a few helpful links to get your hands on useful Visa information.

FAQs for EAD application while on H4 Visa.

-How does a change of status differs from a visa?

-Procedure for change of status from H4 to F1 and example list of papers required.

-Read this for more information for change of status to F1 or J1.

-Here’s a link for processing times for change of status.

Sources: 1,2,3,4,5,and 6


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Rakhi Acharyya //
Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

47 Comments

  1. Sruti says:

    Hi Rakhi,

    A very well written post! I am currently in the US.As my husband got offered a decent job in India most recently, I feel like I am totally lost. I always wanted to explore the US more in terms of job and everything else. That is why I took up a grad course and I feel great about the subject I am studying. Although I will finish the course before leaving for India, I fear I will always have this regret of not being able to even job search here. Also there are hardly any jobs available in India on the subject I am studying as it’s a US specific course. I took this course as neither me nor my hubby could imagine that we might have to move out so soon!
    It might not be a rosy picture but I did want to try search jobs in the US. Now I can’t ask my hubby to leave the position as it’s a very much coveted central government position. He is still a researcher in US and for him this is the best thing that could have happened. But I am having sleepless nights thinking about my career as we all know how bad India’s job market is.
    I am also having terrible thoughts about how I will be able to adjust back to the previous state of affairs which I left for almost 5yrs. I am just too messed up with all these thoughts right now.
    What do you think?

  2. Thanks Sruti. I am glad you liked the post.
    I understand your anxiety but as I see it, you could do one of two things. You could try to link to people with similar educational background in India and try to network your way through to a job. Else stay back and find a job. But finding a job might get trickier with the changing environment in the US. Why don’t you try reading some of the comments on the links shared in this article – NRI Checklist & Reverse Brain Drain. There are quite a few people who are going through a similar struggle.
    Either way, take comfort in the fact that adjusting back home shouldn’t be a problem. 5 years is not a long enough time to be rendered incapable of setting yourself back in the lifestyle you had for over 20 years. You should be just fine.
    Good luck with whatever you decide and let us know when something great shapes up!

  3. Saranya says:

    Wonderful article Rakhi. It’s not just another boring and serious article about the nitty-gritty of the struggles facing H4 (read helpless) visa holders. “each of which will claim a kidney and a limb!” – I laughed way too hard at this, but the whole article is really good at capturing the possibilities that the dependents have in the USA, with a funny touch to it here and there (there were quite a few places in the article where I caught myself laughing and amazed at how you threw in certain funny punches). Very well written !

    Best,
    One of the H4 holders, planning to travel soon.

  4. poonam says:

    Dear Rakhi,
    I am a distraught mother whose daughter has gone to the US on an H4 visa, being married to a person who is on an H1B visa. It seems that the boy in question has proved to be a demon in disguise, harassing and subjugating my daughter verbally and mentally, albeit not physically. Please tell me, what rights my daughter does have, in case the boy tries to divorce her or get a separation from her in the US Courts. I have an eerie feeling, that the boy and his parents are planning something terrible against her. My daughter is a Post Graduate in Humanities from a premier Indian University.

    • Dear Poonam,

      I am sad to hear your daughter’s predicament. Unfortunately I am not qualified to provide you with information that could be legally useful . However, my suggestion would be that she seeks help from friends or a social support group. Meanwhile , for further information on her rights and options she should speak with a legal expert. You can also speak with a legal expert, in India, to know what options are available to her in the US. Hope things get better for your family.

  5. Dhiraj says:

    Hi,

    I am a student under F1 visa studying Masters in the US. If I plan to get married sooner or later, will my H4 spouse be able to work in anyway? Can she drive an Uber or do freelancing at home? What about opening a bank acount? Can she do that?

    Please let me know. Thanks.

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      Hi Dhiraj,
      I believe the current status is that “none of the above”. You can verify this with your school international office. They have experts who can guide you.

  6. Atharva says:

    Hi,
    I am on H1B Visa. My son and my wife are on H4 dependent visa which means both of them cannot work in the United States. My son is in 9th Grade and in about 3 years, he will be entering college. I know that he can volunteer and have unpaid internships but is there anyway he can earn some money and save up to his college? Or, better yet, Is there anyway other than converting to H1B, Can my wife work here to earn extra money?
    Hope to hear from you..
    Thanks,

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      I believe, by its very nature, an H4 visa prevents anyone from making money. However, if your son gets into college, he might have to convert to another status. In which case he will be eligible to work on an F1.

  7. meera says:

    Hi Rakhi, thanks for writing the wonderful post on careers in the US. I’m currently in my final year PhD in the UK. My husband lives on his H1B in the US. I am planning to join him in the US by next year, 2018. Could you please advise if I can expect Universities to apply for my own H1B visa? How is the standing for UK PhD’s in the US for employment? My husband is going to change his employer soon and therefore, he says he cannot obtain an I140 for me to work there. Please advise it will be of a great help. Thanks.

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      You can try getting into a Post Doctoral position, in the US. And I don’t see why a UK PhD should be a disadvantage. As long as you can find a University, and faculty, to fund your research, you should be able to apply through natural means. It will then depend on the faculty’s recommendations, and the individual University, whether an H1B or a J1 is applied for. Either way, the best way to go about it would be to start applying to the Universities.

  8. Sri says:

    Very nice article! We have been mulling over this subject as well. excellent suggestions!

  9. Ashwini says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    My husband will be coming to USA on H4. Is there any way where he can work in software industry? He has very good experience and intelligence in product development. I don’t want him to loose his experience.

    Thanks,
    Ashwini

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      If he is on an H4, unfortunately, he will have to go through some hoops to either get a work permit, like described above or stay as a dependent. Many talented people are cornered by these laws.

  10. Chaithanya says:

    Hello Rakhi,
    Thanks for such an informative article on H4 visas. I am too an H4 visa holder and have come to US with my husband. I got married when pursuing my MBA hence have zero work experience. Since studying is a good option I was thinking of entering into some program but am confused as to what I must do and from which university. Can you give me guidance on this topic?

    Thank you
    Chaithanya

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      Hi Chaithanya,
      Sadly I am not a field expert and you’ll be the best judge of which program to choose for the best employment options. However, there is a lot of information available online for you to research degree vs employment opportunities. You can scour MBA Crystal Ball.com for their MBA study related archive. But do give it some thought as you will likely have to sponsor your education, unless you qualify for a scholarship/fellowship. Make it count!

  11. Anushree Gupta says:

    I m under H4 visa and have 5 years of work experience. With a BTech Degree and MTech degree. I am not really happy sitting at home idle. Husband’s friend suggested to study, but confused about the right course. Can you guide me in this matter? How I can get job in US(Chicago) ?

  12. radhika says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    good article. i am an architect and positively anticipating an EAD in a year. what are the chances i can get a job in my field in the usa with a work permit, but without a Masters degree from here?
    thanks

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      Hi Radhika,
      I may not be the right source to find field specific job information. But your best bet would be look into what other graduates are up to. Perhaps in common interest forums or groups?

  13. Nellie says:

    Hi what a beautifully written article!
    Could you advice me on something? My daughter has a ten year B1/2visa. She has already cleared usmle step 2 and would be writing her step 3 soon. She would be getting married to a h1b holder with a six figure salary whose company would be reapplying for his permit for three years in Feb. Should she apply for medical residency under her present status or convert to h4 and then apply.
    Appreciate your take on this. Thanks.

  14. manisha says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    I am getting married in December and planning to move to US on H4 visa, as I am successfully working in India its a really difficult situation for me to choose between my married life or my professional life and I was keenly searching for some loop hole to work on H4 visa. I must say your article is very much beneficial for h4 visa holders but it also disheartened me a lot and I am again thinking what to do. somehow I had made my mind to join my husband there but your article says too much truth about the life of a h4 visa holder specially for independent women. I am a foreign language expert and I am proficient in Italian language and have 2.5 years of working experience for the same language. Could you tell if i can do some teaching work there like not on salary but voluntarily

  15. Saranya says:

    I am also in h4 visa along with my baby !!I have 10 years of experience in software industry would like to work here…
    For that I am.planning go study something here which offers me a job but dont know which course should be studied…

  16. Jerry says:

    Hi Rakhi
    Excellent Article your presentation style is very good and comprehensive , giving summary at various stagesand need guidance from you
    My son is M tech software developer on H1B Visa and his fiancé is M Tech software business adminstrator on F1 Visa and working in USA With 1 Year experience .Now Current scenario it looks difficult to get H1B visa for her bec of job profile of software business administration and both plans to get married in dec 2018. And her status will change to H4
    if she fails to get H1B visa .

    Can you guide please,
    1. how she can keep current job in US or get new job ?
    2 H4 Visa Holder are not allowed legally to work , will she get SSN ?

  17. Swetha says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    This post is very clear and has cleared almost all my doubts. But still I have few questions. I’m currently on h4 visa without EAD. I’m very much irritated by staying at home and doing nothing. I used to be a working professional when in India. Here, I can’t work till I get EAD or H1B. I have the following questions.
    • If I want to study MS or Ph.D, when can I join to study as an instate student?. (It’s been only 2 months since I came to US)
    • Can I earn money by taking yoga classes in my community ?
    •Can I do unpaid internships? If yes, how can I find them?
    Hope you will clear all of my questions.

  18. rakhi says:

    Hi Swetha,
    In my opinion, you cannot practice any private enterprise, or get an internship whether paid or unpaid, if you are on H4. As far as other admission related questions are concerned, it is best that you contact the international student office of your desired university. Since I am not an expert, it would be best if you contact official sources. Keep track of the newest rules, as they are forever dynamic. Good luck.

  19. B. Bream says:

    Hey Rakhi,
    Great post! We have our green card’s process started and a friend of mine who came to the US with an H4 went through some legal process, hired a lawyer and changed it to “something” that allowed her to work. She is still getting a GC under her mother but she won’t/is hesistant to tell me what she went through to work legally. Can you help me with this? Do you have an idea what she went through?

    I am halfway through college, getting an F1 would make me an int’l student (higher tuition) and need to get an internship asap. Thanks! 🙂

  20. Shubhi says:

    My H1b is approved through a consultancy (previously I was on H4) but now I am in a situation that I should plan baby else it will get too late for me . However I am reluctant and don’t understand the maternity policy here and since there we can’t ever hire help I am totally going crazy in making decision

    • Priya says:

      Can you please let me know how you got H1b through consultancy? It would be very helpful for me. I am planning to go to the US in February and i’m quitting a very successful career here. I’m already depressed about it but I have no other option since my husband is working there.

  21. Meera says:

    My husband is working in US with H1b I’m in H4 working in US with EAD
    Also I have done masters in US
    Will it be difficult for me to continue working in US?

  22. Spurti says:

    Hello!

    After completing my MS at University of Florida on F1 visa, I returned to India for two years to work. However, I’m going to be moving back to US after my marriage this year, will I be able to work under a dependent visa who holds her previous MS degree ?
    I heard that dependants with an existing MS degree can’t work, just like the non degree holder dependants. Please shed some light on this.

  23. Rukmini says:

    Hello Rakhi

    Came across your article and was glad I wasn’t alone in this very difficult and depressing struggle to find a way to work. I completely understand the fact that in a private company, other than H1b, EAD no other option remains to get a job. But I have always wondered about the Cap Exempt H1B from the Non-profits, University Jobs or Research Institutions. Is there any information that says, if you are eligible for the job, you would get regardless of Visa (since obtaining a visa here seems much simpler than the one with the lottery). I tried finding info on this, unfortunately, I was unable to do so. Could you please tell me if you have heard of anyone on H4 finding a job in a non-profit. I just want to understand if there are any hindrances from that angle.
    Really appreciate the article btw, I hope I get to read more of your works.

    Thanks

    • rakhi says:

      Hi Rukmini.

      Thanks for the writing kudos. Unfortunately I haven’t heard of anyone working in a non-profit with an H4. My naive understanding says that you can’t. However, it would be good for you to get some advocate advice on the same, in case you are seriously thinking about it. Don’t want to get into trouble over this, later.

  24. P d says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    Thank you for post. Loved it and could not stop laughing at your Facebook status line. I am in same boat as other h4 girls in here. I moved from canada(was on work visa there) to us on h4 in 2013. With work opportunity for h4 ead, I had hope and hence forth completed my most difficult exam of CPA along with last exam of ethics which is required for being able to open my CPA firm, once I have Ead. Which i am still waiting in since 2 years…Now when i am on verge of getting i140 approved for my husband, immigration law is making my life twist more on their proposal of removing this chance to work here. So I guess yours article of moving back home sounds like a grass greener on other side.
    Just trying to keep myself positive that nothing will go invain and day will come everything will pay off.

  25. Trina says:

    hey rakhi…
    just loved the way you have written your article. could not stop reading till the end. and must say quite crisp and informative.

  26. Sasmita says:

    Hi Rakhi
    I am here at NJ .came to US with my husband in the year 2013 on a H4 VISA.
    Prior to this I had 7 years of work experience 5 years as a math teacher in a school and 2 years as a technical recruiter.
    I have done my masters of science and Bachelor of Education from a reputed university in India. I would like to explore some option here in states as a teacher in the field of education. I know I have to go for certifications. I am not sure which one I should go for and what are the options available for H4, so that later post certification I can go for OPT.
    I would like to get your expert suggestion.Could you please assist.
    Regards,
    Sasmita

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      First off, Susmita, I think the program coordinators of wherever you are getting the teaching certificate will be able to tell you about your chances of getting an OPT there.
      However, I am quite certain that you will not be able to pursue an EAD (OPT) within an H4 category, as I mentioned in the article. You might need to explore a transition to F1 before you go that route. In any case, the best judge will be the people handling immigrant students, especially with the ever changing immigration laws in the US.

  27. Anvi says:

    Hi Rakhi,
    Great post! Really nice and informative .
    Could you please suggest on my query , I am going to move to U.S . I already have 3 years of experience in IT industry . Which is the better option to get a job after moving to U.S whether to apply for EAD through h4 or to go to U.S. through f1 visa by applying for M.s course .
    How much time it will take to get approval to work in u.s under h4?
    Which is best for the carrier ?

    • Rakhi Acharyya says:

      I am sorry Anvi, these queries require me to be aware of the timeline of the whole EAD to H4, contingent on an H1B spouse, etc. In other words, best left for an immigration lawyer to sort out, one who handles visa issues as part of their job. The second one is easy for me to respond. F1 to EAD is the more common option. F1 takes about a month to process post an acceptance I20 from a US accredited university. Of course, the course itself needs to be eligible for an EAD later. That you should be able to inquire from your program secretary or international student office.

  28. Veena says:

    Dear Rakhee, my daughter has H4 visa and SSN no she worked as a physiotherapist in India for 4 years.after marriage she moved there she is applying for many jobs but no response how can she get a job or can she join some other courses so that she can work there.

  29. udaya says:

    Hi Rakhi

    I am on H4 Visa, what is the process to join in Phd in USA, I did my MBA in 2005. can you please suggest .

  30. Ramprakash says:

    Hello Rakhi,
    Wonderful article!. I have a question though’ Can person employed in India go to US on H4 dependent visa stay at home in US and work from home for the parent company in India?? Appreciate if you can answer my query and extra info… Thank you in advance!

    • Rakhi says:

      A tough one. My idea is that it is “No”, you cannot do so since you will be getting paid while living in America on an H4, no matter where your payer is located. However, since I am no expert on immigration laws, it is best you consult a legal body.

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