Can H-1B dependents legally work in the US?

H-1B visas are awarded each year based on a variety of factors, and they are a visa program that is strictly linked to employment at American companies. You might know that H-1B visa recipients can travel to the U.S. to work a specific job as part of an employment contract. What you might not know is that their family dependents, namely spouses, are allowed to enter the United States with the visa recipient. 


Considering the H-1B program basically results in these individuals and families uprooting their lives to move to the U.S., it makes sense to ask: can spouses and legally work in the United States while living here?


Yes, but with some tasks at hand. For example, dependent work permits are not automatically given as a part of the H-1B visa distribution. Families interested in applying for the work permits with their dependent status, also known as H-4 visas, must first establish eligibility. Note that H-4 status unmarried children under 21 years of age are not eligible.


But let’s back up for a second. Before an H-4 can be approved to work, these interested applicants must also complete an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). With an EAD, you may work on a part-time, full-time or short-term basis for any U.S. employer. Your EAD will be valid for as long as you hold H-4 status, which in turn will rely on your family member’s H-1B status. H-1B status lasts for an initial 3 years, with the option, where eligible, to extend to a total of 6 years. If your spouse is required to renew their H-1B visa, you will also be required to renew your H-4 visa and EAD. 


To be eligible for employment authorization as an H1B dependant:


  • You must be the spouse of an H-1B non-immigrant worker.
  • You must have applied for and been granted H-4 visa status.
  • The H-1B worker must be on track to attain a Green Card, that is they hold an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker form I-140, or have been granted an extension to their H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21).
  • As an H-4 visa holder, you must reside in the US at the time of your EAD application.


Many questions arise in the application and eligibility processes. If you are an H-1B applicant looking to obtain a work permit for your spouse in the United States, contact our team of immigration attorneys to help guide you through this great program.