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How do I apply for a Work Permit. I am presently on a Dependant Visa?
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"I feel helpless. Back home I was working with a fashion house as their primary designer. Here I have nothing to do but sit at home. Not like my friend Suzanne, who got her employment authorization and now works for a consulting company." says Olivia with sadness in her voice.

Both Olivia and Suzanne are good friends from France, have the same academic background, live in the same city in California and their husbands work in the same company as Business Analysts. While Suzanne can work in the US, Olivia is not authorized to do so. Why? Olivia is on H-4 status and Suzanne is on L-2.

Dependants of personnel with work visas in the US are not generally allowed to work in the US, unless they qualify for a work visa in their own. However, spouses of certain student or work visa holders can apply for employment authorization. This article discusses the situations when a dependant spouse can work or study in the United States.

Dependants of H nonimmigrants (H-4 visa)

In the above example, Olivia cannot work in the US because she is on H-4 visa. Dependants on H-4 visas must be supported by the principal H visa holder. However it is possible to study on H-4 without converting to a student visa.

Dependants of L-1 nonimmigrants (L-2 visa)

Suzanne can work in the US because she is on L-2 status. As a spouse of L-1 visa holder you may work part-time or full-time in the U.S. You must apply for and receive proper employment authorization from the USCIS before you can start working. You may also engage in full-time study in the U.S. However, you may not apply for employment authorization if you are a dependant child on L-2 visa.

Dependants of E-1 or E-2 nonimmigrants

Dependant spouses of E-1 and E-2 visa holders may seek employment by applying for Employment Authorization using Form I-765. You may also attend U.S. schools, colleges and universities, and do not have to apply for separate student visa such as an F-1 visa.

Dependants of J-1 nonimmigrants (J-2 visa)

You may work in the U.S. on J-2 visa, if you receive special permission from the USCIS and the money is not needed to support the principal J-1 visa holder. However, an application for permission to work can only be made after the J-2 visa holder's arrival in the U.S. and will be considered in light of policies then in effect.

To apply for work authorization on J-2 visa, you:
  • Must hold valid J-2 status, and the Exchange Visitor must hold valid J-1 status, as shown on your Form I-94 Departure Record cards

  • May not use your income to support your J-1 spouse or parent

  • May begin working only after you receive your Employment Authorization document from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

  • May work part-time or full-time, at any job, for any employer. There is no limit to the amount you may earn
You may also study on J-2 visa. There is no requirement that the spouse and/or children of a J-1 visa holder apply for a student visa if they wish to study in the U.S.

Dependants of F-1 nonimmigrants (F-2 visa)

You may not take up paid employment while in the U.S. on F-2 visa. As an F-2 spouse you may not engage in full time study and F-2 child may only engage in full time elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade) study. F-2 spouse or child may engage in a study that is vocational or recreational in nature.

Conclusion

Though immigration regulations allow certain spouses in dependant visa status to apply for employment authorization, for some, working in US is a distant dream. However, there are situations where persons in a situation similar to Olivia are able to work. They can change their status to a work visa, provided they have the required qualifications, experience in their field of expertise and a valid job offer from a US employer. One other situation where a dependent spouse can start working in the US can be when the principal spouse's employer files for permanent residence for that spouse, and subsequently the dependant spouse may become eligible to apply for Employment Authorization. However, for persons not eligible for any of these alternatives, working in the US still remains a distant dream.

A few weeks later Olivia receives a call… “Hi Olivia, this is Rose from VisaPro. Your H-1B petition has been approved. Congratulations! You can soon start working.”

Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding any type of employment based and family based petitions. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.

We cover the latest happenings on work visas in Immigration Monitor, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to Immigration Monitor.

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