H4 visa: a primer

What is an H4 visa? Can H4 visa-holders work? Can they start a business?

(Updated on March 9, 2017)

WASHINGTON, DC: H4 is a non-immigrant category visa that allows the husband or wife, and unmarried children of certain H category non-immigrant workers and trainees to come to the United States.

The following are the H category visas:

H1B: Temporary workers in “specialty occupations”

H2A: Temporary agricultural workers

H2B: Temporary skilled and unskilled workers

H3:   Trainees

Can H4 visa holders work in the United States?

Yes,  certain H4 dependents can work at the moment. On May 6, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced rule changes that would allow certain H4 visa holders to request employment authorization, provided the H-1B worker, on whose dependency visa the H4 visa holder is in the United States, “has already started the process of seeking lawful permanent residence through employment.”

According to DHS, the eligible individuals would include the following:

  • Those H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B visa holders:
  • Who have an approved I-140 or “Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker”, or
  • Who are pursuing a green card and have received an extension of their “authorized period of stay” in the country “under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21) as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act.”

Follow The American Bazaar’s continuing coverage of H4 visa-related issues

Can a H4 visa hold start a business in the United States?

The H-4 can certainly start a business, according to immigration lawyers. However, Attorney Sheela Murthy of Murthy Law Firm advises that “it may not be very wise to put your house on the line, et cetera if you and your spouse both don’t have green cards.” She adds: “If have to leave the country unexpectedly on 30 days’ notice due to your spouse’s H1-B contract not being extended for any reason, you could lose everything.

“The spouse of an H-4 wouldn’t be able to become an active partner in the business because it is a violation of H1-B status to work for any other employer except the employer from whom you have an H-1B petition.”

Can a H4 visa holder change to another category?

Yes. According to USCIS, “H4 nonimmigrant can apply to change to another nonimmigrant status” as long as one is not “currently in a nonimmigrant category that does not allow a change of status.”

Can H4 visa holders attend school without changing the visa status?

Yes, H4 visa holder can “attend school without changing to another nonimmigrant status.”

Can H4 visa holders extend their stay?

Yes, H4 dependents can extend their stay as long as the persons on whom they are dependent are extending theirs.


  1. OhioProgrammer

    The H1B Visa is destroying the American engineering profession, the backbone of the American middle class.
    The sole purpose of the program is help big companies depress wage rates, thus increasing their profits.
    The H1B visa program should be terminated completely.

    • Understand that the IT industry is but a drop in the total US job market. You can argue (and I would agree) that the H-1B program has hurt IT job prospects, but it has tremendous value for many industries particularly chemical, oil and gas and biotech. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced efficiently, which is not the case with IT.

      Sure, H-1B has hurt IT, but it has literally saved many other industries where the average wage is over $110,000 such as petroleum/chemical engineering and where you can spend months – months! – looking for a single candidate to fill a vacancy if only looking at American citizens.

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