If your husband or wife has an exciting new work opportunity abroad, that’s a reason to celebrate. Highly skilled immigrants working in fields from technology to science are key to driving innovation, technological adoption and productivity—and American companies are keen to tap into global talent.

But will a career boost for your husband or wife translate into career stumbling block for you? To determine your ability to work in the United States, it’s important to understand the rules around dependents of H-1B visa holders.

What’s the difference between an H-1B and H-4 Visa?

H-1B visa holders can bring their wife or husband and children under 21 years of age to the U.S. under the H-4 Visa category as dependents. As an H-4 visa holder, you can remain in the U.S. as long as your husband or wife has a valid visa. You can attend school, obtain a driver’s license and open a local bank account, but your ability to work will be determined by whether or not you obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

When can I apply for the H-4 Visa?

Once your husband or wife’s immigrant visa petition has been approved, you and any unmarried children under the age of 21 can apply for an immigrant visa on the same petition. You’ll follow a similar visa application process and will need to complete all the necessary forms, pay all required fees, undergo a medical examination, and attend an interview.

You can check the status of your visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) online. Find out more about how to do so here.

Once your visa is approved, you can remain in the U.S. as long as your husband or wife has a legally valid H-1B visa. While in the U.S., you can also apply for a change of status and switch to an H-1B, for example, or apply for a Green Card on your own.

Who can apply for the Employment Authorization Document?

Before 2015, H-4 visa work was prohibited. However, since 2015, certain H4 visa holders are allowed to work under the EAD program. While the UCSIS proposed eliminating the program in February 2019, it is still up for review. On November 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia announced it will not abolish the rule that allows work permits for H-4 visa holders, but the judgment has been sent back to a lower court for reassessment.

With an EAD you do not need to have a Labor Condition Application (LCA), petition or sponsorship (Form I-129) from U.S government agencies. The EAD allows you to work in any sector of the economy, so you are not limited to jobs which require extraordinary ability—unlike the H-1B visa.

How do I get a bank account or a credit card with an H4 visa?

In the U.S., you can open a bank account for yourself or your U.S. businesses as a citizen, resident, or non-resident as long as you have the right documents. Most banks will allow you to open an account as long as you provide identification, proof of address, and your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). You can learn more about the difference between a social security number and ITIN here.

It can be difficult to get a credit card in the US without local credit history, but here are some options for newly arrived immigrants to get you started.

The takeaway

While you wait to hear back about your EAD application, you can prepare for your new life in the U.S. There are many more important documents and steps to take before you’ll be ready to move to the country however. For example, did you know that your credit history doesn’t automatically transfer with you when you immigrate? That means that companies and financial institutions will have no record of your previous financial history. In turn, that can make it very difficult to secure loans, secure an apartment lease, mobile phone companies, and other service providers.  

Nova Credit's Credit Passport® technology helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to national bureau databases, Nova Credit partners with companies to include information from your Credit Passport® in applications to make it easier for newcomers to get approved for credit cards, loans and other products. Once you establish a U.S. credit account using the credit you’ve earned, you can start building a local credit history. Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK. 

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