H-4 Visas: Spouses and Children of H-1B Workers

An alien worker accepts a specialty occupation position with a U.S. employer. Her prospective employer then petitions for her under the H-1B classification (with the assistance of experienced H-1B attorneys). During filing season, she learns her H-1B application is one of the petitions selected for adjudication in the annual lottery. And to add to her good fortune, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves the petition shortly thereafter.

The foreign national is excited to plan her move to the U.S. to work—until she realizes her stay-at-home husband and three small kids don’t have nonimmigrant visas. Does she have to choose between taking her dream job, which can potentially lead to a career and life in the U.S., and staying with her family?

The hypothetical H-1B worker won’t have to make such a choice, fortunately. A benefit of the H-1B visa is that it allows the spouses and children of H-1B workers to travel and reside with them in the U.S. for the duration of their status.

Enter the H-4

Wives, husbands, and unmarried children under the age of 21 are considered dependents of H-1B workers. These dependents can apply for H-4 visas on the basis of the underlying H-1B petition. This classification permits “coextensive” stay, which is legalese for permission to enter and remain in the U.S. for as long as the H-1B visa holder has valid status.

While in the U.S., H-4 holders can attend school, whether on a part-time or full-time basis. And while they aren’t automatically allowed to work, they can obtain employment authorization from USCIS. (For more detailed information on the associated regulations on H-4 employment, click here.)

Application Process

After the underlying H-1B petition is approved, dependents can apply for H-4 visas to enter the U.S.


The most common scenario is that the H-1B worker’s dependents are located in the U.S., often in another status such as F-1 or F-2. In this case, dependents who do not wish to maintain independent status can apply for H-4 along with the primary beneficiary’s H-1B petition after the petition has been selected in the quota, if applicable.

If everyone, including the H-1B worker, is overseas, then the foreign worker and dependents should visit a U.S. consulate in their home country together and apply for their visas simultaneously. All required documentation should be brought to the U.S. consulate at this time. (For more detailed instructions, as well as wait times at individual consulates, click here.)


If the H-1B holder is in the U.S. and his or her dependents are overseas, the dependents may apply for H-4 visas at a U.S. consulate by themselves.

Changing Status

H-4 visa holders are permitted to change their status to any of the following designations: H-1, F-1, B-1, B-2, or any other nonimmigrant classification under which they’re eligible. Like H-1B holders, H-4 holders may stay in the U.S. for a maximum period of six years. There are, however, some exceptions to the six-year maximum, and if the primary H-1B worker is granted such an exception, then it applies to his or her H-4 dependents, too.

Our experienced immigration attorneys are here to guide professionals through the complicated H-1B application process, and minimize any and all confusion or challenges. We understand how important an H-1B visa is to you, whether as the employer or the prospective employee. Our seasoned staff and years-long track record of success make Zhang & Associates the natural choice to facilitate your H-1B petitions.

For more detailed information on the H-1B category, including minimum requirements and USCIS policies, refer to the following links:

General H-1B Topics

H-1B Articles


Updated 04/26/2017