Spouses and minor children of H-1B, H-2A, H-2B and H-3 nonimmigrants may be admitted as H-4 nonimmigrants. H-4 dependents are ineligible for employment authorization. If the dependents are outside the United States, a separate petition on their behalf need not be filed with USCIS. However, in order to obtain an H-4 visa, each dependent must submit to an American consulate an individual nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-156, and documents showing a familial relationship to the H-visa holder.
If the principal beneficiary is applying for H status through a change or extension of status, then dependent, familial members who are in the United States may request H-4 status on Form I-539. Filing errors are very common during the change-of-status process. Often, derivative beneficiaries will require a visa revalidation or visa re-issuance while in the United States, when, in fact, they must file a change-of-status application on Form I-539. DOS no longer revalidates the visas, which means that, if dependents, either spouses or children over eighteen years of age, do not leave the United States within 180 days of the expiration date of their H-4 status, then they are subject to a three-year re-entry bar, which increases to ten years if the dependent overstays beyond one year of the expiration date on their I-94 cards. Consultation with an experienced immigration attorney is crucial during this process to avoid complications related to the expiration of status.