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H-4 EAD: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The H4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) permits spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States.
  • Eligibility is contingent on the H-1B holder having an approved or pending Form I-140 or a status approved under AC21.
  • Application involves filing Form I-765, paying a fee, and submitting required documents.
  • Processing typically takes around 90 days, without an option for premium processing; applicants are advised against traveling abroad during this period.

An H4 Visa is a visa issued to dependents (spouses or children under 21 years of age) of H1B visa holders. Spouses of H1B visa holders are not allowed to work with just an H4 Visa. There is, however, an option to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which allows you to work with an H4 visa.

What is H4 EAD?

The H4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a work permit that allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Spouses (and sometimes children) of H-1B visa holders are given H-4 visas to lawfully reside in the U.S. However, until the introduction of the H4 EAD, H-4 visa holders were generally not allowed to work.

The H4 EAD program was implemented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide work authorization under certain conditions. This program is particularly important for families where both spouses wish to work while living in the U.S.

Who is Eligible for H4 EAD?

Navigating the eligibility criteria for the H4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) can be complex. Not every H-4 visa holder, who is a dependent of an H-1B visa holder, automatically qualifies for an EAD. There are specific requirements that must be met, and understanding these is crucial. Let’s break down the essentials:

  1. Approved or Pending Form I-140: The primary requirement revolves around the status of the H-1B visa holder’s Form I-140, which is the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. To qualify for an H-4 EAD:
    • The H-1B visa holder must either have an approved Form I-140.
    • Alternatively, the form should be in the process of approval.
  2. Status Under AC21 Provisions: The second route for eligibility involves provisions under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21):
    • The H-1B holder must have a status approved under sections 106(a) and (b) of AC21. This provision is crucial as it permits H-1B visa holders to extend their stay in the U.S. beyond the standard six-year limit while they pursue lawful permanent residence (Employment-Based Green Card).
  3. Specifics Under AC21: If the H-1B holder’s status is under AC21:
    • Their employer must have filed the PERM Labor Certification and Form I-140 at least 365 days before they reach the six-year H-1B limit.
    • The H-4 visa holder can apply for the EAD only after this process is complete.
  4. Impact of I-140 Status: The I-140 form’s status is pivotal:
    • If the I-140 is filed but not granted, the H-4 holder cannot apply for an EAD.
    • If the I-140 status is revoked from the H-1B holder, the EAD for the H-4 holder will also be revoked.
  5. Non-Eligibility Implications: Failing to meet these requirements has direct consequences:
    • H-4 holders who do not fulfill either of the above conditions cannot file for an EAD.
    • Any application attempts in the face of non-eligibility will be rejected by USCIS on grounds of ineligibility.

Understanding these criteria is crucial for H-4 visa holders seeking work authorization in the U.S. It’s always recommended to consult with an immigration attorney to navigate these requirements effectively and ensure compliance with all applicable immigration laws and regulations.

Applying for H4 EAD: A Simplified Guide

Applying for an H4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) involves a straightforward process centered around the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization form. Here’s a concise guide to help you through the application process.

Step-by-Step Application Process

  1. Eligibility Check: Ensure you are eligible for the H4 EAD before applying.
  2. Form I-765: Complete the I-765 form, which is the core of your application. This form can’t be filed electronically; it must be mailed to USCIS.
  3. Application Fee: Pay the application fee of $410 to the Department of Homeland Security. Note that some applicants may be exempt from this fee.
  4. Required Documents: Alongside your I-765 form, you’ll need to submit several documents:
    • Marriage certificate (to verify marriage to an H1B visa holder).
    • Copy of your Form I-94 or I-797 (to confirm your H4 status).
    • Previous EAD copy, if applicable.
    • Two color passport photos.
    • Form G-1145 for e-notification upon application acceptance.
    • Proof of your spouse’s H1B status (e.g., their Form I-94, passport, I-797, I-129).
    • Copies of both your and your spouse’s passports.
    • A government-issued ID, birth certificate with photo, foreign consulate visa, or national ID with photo.
  5. Submission: Mail your completed Form I-765 with the required documents and fees to the specified USCIS address.
  6. Concurrent Filing: If filing Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) along with I-765, note that the I-765 processing will start only after I-539 is adjudicated. Your H4 status needs to be confirmed first.

H4 EAD Processing Time

Generally, applicants can anticipate a response within about 3 months, or 90 days, from the date of filing.

Factors Influencing Processing Time

If the H-1B spouse has an approved Form I-140, the processing tends to be quicker. For those on AC21 status, processing may take longer as additional documents are often required.

No Premium Processing

Currently, there is no option for premium processing for H-4 EAD applications, so most applications undergo similar processing timelines.

Travel Considerations During Processing

It’s advised not to travel outside the U.S. while your application is being processed. This is because USCIS may request additional information or documents, and being abroad can delay your response, potentially prolonging the processing time or even risking denial of the application.

Tracking Your H4 EAD Application

Staying updated on your application status is important, and here’s how you can do it:

  • Use of Tracking Tools: USCIS provides a tracking system that allows you to monitor the status of your H4 EAD application.
  • How to Track: You’ll need your receipt number, provided by USCIS when you submit your application, to check the status.
  • Staying Informed: Regularly checking the status can help you plan accordingly and stay informed about any requests for additional information or potential delays.

What Happens After You Are Approved for H4 EAD?

Upon approval, you’ll receive your EAD, officially authorizing you to work in the U.S. With your EAD in hand, you’re legally permitted to start or continue your employment without any restrictions on the type of job, as long as it complies with U.S. labor laws.

H4 EAD Extension

An automatic extension of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) can provide continuity in work authorization under specific conditions. Here’s what you need to know about qualifying for this extension:

Eligibility Criteria for Automatic EAD Extension

  1. Timely Renewal Application: You must have submitted Form I-765 for EAD renewal before your current EAD expired.
  2. Eligible Categories: Your EAD must fall under a category that is eligible for an automatic extension.
  3. Category Consistency: The category on your EAD should match the “Class Requested” on your Form I-797C, Notice of Action.

Categories Eligible for Automatic EAD Extension

The U.S. government specifies certain categories that qualify for an automatic EAD extension. These include:

  • Refugees and Asylees.
  • N-8 (Parents of certain special immigrant children) and N-9 (Children of certain N-8 or special immigrants).
  • Nationals of Palau, the Marshall Islands, or Micronesia.
  • Individuals granted withholding of deportation.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
  • Spouses of E nonimmigrant visa holders.
  • L-2 visa holders (spouses of L-1 visa holders).
  • Asylum applicants.
  • Individuals with pending adjustment of status applications.
  • Applicants for cancellation of removal.
  • Individuals with applications based on continuous residence since January 1, 1972.
  • Applicants with pending TPS applications.
  • Applicants under Section 210 Legalization (I-700 pending).
  • Applicants under Section 245A Legalization (I-687 pending).
  • LIFE Legalization applicants (adjustment to permanent residence).
  • Spouses of H-1B visa holders.
  • VAWA self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act.

If you meet these criteria, you may be eligible for an up to 180-day extension of your EAD, allowing you to continue working in the United States while your renewal application is processed. Always ensure your eligibility and stay informed about the latest immigration policies and regulations.

H4 EAD Renewal

Renewing your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a crucial step to ensure continuous work authorization in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Timing is Key: You’re eligible to file for EAD renewal up to 120 days before its expiration date. Marking this date on your calendar and planning in advance can prevent any lapse in employment authorization.
  • Application Process: The renewal process involves submitting a new Form I-765, along with any required supporting documents and the renewal fee.
  • Continuous Work Authorization: Timely renewal is essential to avoid any gap in your employment eligibility in the U.S.

H4 EAD Employment Opportunities

Holding an H-4 EAD offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of employment options. Here are the key aspects of job opportunities with an H-4 EAD:

No Job Offer Required for EAD Application

You don’t need to have a job offer at the time of applying for the EAD. Whether you have a job lined up or not doesn’t impact your application.

Wide Range of Employment Options

Once you receive your EAD, you are free to seek employment in any sector of the U.S. economy. The only requirement is that the job must be legal in the U.S., and you should comply with tax obligations. There’s no need for petitions or labor certifications on your behalf.

Flexibility in Work Hours

You can choose to work either full-time or part-time jobs without facing any penalties or restrictions related to your EAD status.

No Obligation to Work

Even after obtaining your EAD, you are not obligated to start working immediately. You can choose to remain unemployed without it affecting your H-4 EAD status. The EAD provides the flexibility to start working whenever you decide to.

This flexibility makes the H-4 EAD a valuable option for those looking for diverse employment opportunities in the U.S. without the constraints often associated with other visa types.

Choosing Between H1B and H4 Visas

Many opt for the H4 visa over the H1B due to its simpler application process and associated benefits, making it a preferable choice for spouses of H-1B visa holders seeking employment authorization in the U.S.

Learn More

Final Thoughts

Working in the U.S. on an H4 visa isn’t necessarily easy and the future of the H4 EAD program isn’t exactly clear at this time, but it’s not impossible and for the time being, it’s a great opportunity for the spouses of H1B visa holders to gain experience and earn and income in the U.S.

H-4 Visa EAD Frequently Asked Questions

Below, you will find some common questions about H-4 EAD and their answers.

What Does an H-4 EAD Entail?

An H-4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a work permit granted to eligible spouses of H-1B visa holders, permitting them to work in the U.S. while the primary H-1B visa holder maintains valid status.

Who Is Eligible for an H-4 EAD?

To qualify for an H-4 EAD, you must:

  • Be married to an H-1B holder with an approved Form I-140.
  • Hold H-4 status.
  • Not hold any other U.S. work authorization.

Can I continue to work on EAD while my renewal application is processing?

If you apply for H-4 EAD renewal timely, you may continue working under the automatic extension, valid until the expiration of your current I-94.

What jobs can I have on H-4 EAD?

Holding an H-4 EAD allows you to work for any U.S. employer in a legally permissible job. It’s important to maintain a valid EAD throughout your employment.

Can I start a business on an H-4 visa with EAD?

You can start a business while on H-4 or with an H-4 EAD. However, this doesn’t change your immigration status, and you must adhere to H-4 restrictions and relevant laws.

What will happen if I work on an H-4 visa without EAD?

Unauthorized employment on an H-4 visa is a serious violation that can lead to denial of future immigration benefits and potential removal from the U.S.

What was the impact of the Edakunni Settlement on H-4 processing?

The Edakunni Settlement, effective from January 2023, ensures simultaneous processing of H4 and H4 EAD applications with the principal H-1B petition, provided they are filed together. This doesn’t apply if H4 and H4 EAD applications are filed separately or after the H-1B petition.

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