The nonimmigrant status known as H-4 is common for spouses and certain children of individuals who hold H status, for example H-1B. In some circumstances, but not all, H-4 status holders can apply for a work permit, known as an EAD or employment authorization document.
Which H-4 status holders are eligible for a work permit?
Today, some H-4 nonimmigrants are eligible to apply for employment authorization and EADs. However, it’s important to know that the permission to work is not automatic and it does not extend to everyone who has H-4 status.
There are several ways that someone with H-4 status can become eligible to file for work authorization.
Work permits based on marriage to an H-1B holder who meets certain requirements
The most common is for a spouse of an H-1B holder who are in the process of applying for permanent residency. More specifically, that H-1B holder must be:
- the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
- granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000
The reference above to the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act mostly includes those with a labor certification or I-140 petition pending for more than a year.
Work permits based on suffering abuse by one’s spouse
Separately, there is another type of work permit available for H-4 spouses who have been abused. This category extends to all H visas rather than just H-1B spouses. It is best to consult with a lawyer before filing to see if other benefits might also be available for victims of crimes and domestic violence.
Work permits based on compelling circumstances for individuals and their families awaiting priority dates under EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 petitions
There is a special regulatory provision which allows for work permits under category (c)(35) for certain individuals and their families who are awaiting priority dates. The requirements for this type of EAD are very technical and determining what circumstances are considered compelling is a legal question best reviewed with a lawyer. This category can help people who encountered unusual circumstances which impacted them or their company prior to reaching a priority date. This category can include spouses and children as well.
How can an H-4 nonimmigrant apply for a work permit?
H-4 spouses desiring a work permit must formally submit an application and are not otherwise authorized to work unless that application has been approved. Work permit applications are completed on USCIS form I-765 and each applicant must follow the detailed instructions for that form, which are available at the USCIS website.
H-4 nonimmigrants should take note that their work permit does not itself provide immigration status and a change or extension of status may still be required. It is best to consult with an immigration attorney if any questions come up.
For spouses who are requesting a work permit based on abuse, a slightly different form is used, USCIS form I-765V.
How much does it cost to apply for an H-4 EAD work permit?
Filing fees should always be reviewed at USCIS.gov and applicants may review the USCIS fee calculator. The filing fee for the I-765 for H-4 nonimmigrants in category (c)(26), which is the most common category, is $410. However, for those applying under the special circumstances categories, (c)(35) and (c)(36), they must add the $85 biometric fee for a total of $495.
There is no filing fee for the form I-765V if the applicant is filing based on having suffered abuse.
What kinds of jobs can an H-4 nonimmigrant with an EAD do?
The H-4 work permit is unrestricted and not tied to a particular employer. This means that an H-4 nonimmigrant who has an approved EAD can work at any job, unless US Citizenship is required. Often H-4 nonimmigrants with EADs can work at a wider range of jobs that the H principal nonimmigrant, who are often subject to employment restrictions.
Who is eligible for H-4 status?
H-4 nonimmigrant status is a dependent status for all of the H status categories. These categories include H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, and H-3. Eligible dependents in these categories include spouses and unmarried children under age 21.