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US Visa for Your Spouse and Children

Bringing your family with you to the US has its own bureaucratic hurdles. Depending on your own visa category, you will have to take different steps to ensure your spouse and children can come with you. InterNations offers an introduction on dependent visa categories for expat families.
Being able to bring along ones family to the US is understandably important to many expats.

If you are planning to take your family with you to the United States, you obviously need to know what kind of visa your spouse and children need to get in order to join you. You might further be interested in whether your spouse will be able to take up work while living in the US. In the following, you can find information on what visa your family members need to apply for as well as who is eligible for a so called Employment Authorization Document.

Before you start reading up on this information, however, please note that as of 2013, same-sex spouses and their minor children are now just as eligible as opposite-sex spouses in regard to immigration benefits.

Immigration Visas for Your Family

Once your own immigrant visa petition has been approved, your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can apply for an immigrant visa with you, based on the same petition. Please note, however, that they have to go through the same immigration visa application process as you, including completing all the necessary forms, obtaining and submitting all the necessary documents, undergoing a medical examination, attending their interview, and paying all required fees.

Alternatively, if you are already in the US as a permanent resident, you are going to need to file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and start your spouse’s or unmarried children’s relative-petitioned immigration visa application process from there. You need to be prepared for a certain waiting period, since the number of visas in this category is limited. If, however, you should already have become an US citizen through the process of naturalization, then your immediate relatives fall into a different preference category, for which an unlimited number of visa are given out, so waiting times will be much shorter.

Visas for a Nonimmigrant Worker’s Family

If you are an applicant for a nonimmigrant worker visa, your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 can usually join you during your stay in the US. This is for example the case for the following categories:

  • H-1B Specialty Occupation
  • H-2 Temporary Worker
  •  L Intracompany Transferee
  • O Extraordinary Ability/Achievement
  • E-1/2 Treaty Traders/Investors

In order to do so, they nevertheless still have to apply for their own visa. You can find an overview over which dependent visa category your family is going to fall under based on your own visa classification on the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Generally, you as the nonimmigrant worker will also have to be able to show that you can support them financially during this time.

Family members of an expat travelling under a B-1 Business Visitor Visa, on the other hand, are not eligible for a dependent visa. They will have to apply separately for a B-2 Visitor Visa.

Employment Authorization for Spouses

Depending on what visa category they fall under, your spouse may or may not be able to work in the US during your stay there. In most cases, and this includes for example the H-4 and O-3 visa categories, they may not seek employment in the States. Those holding the O-3 visa may, however, study full or part time.

Spouses of E-1 (Treaty Traders), E-2 (Treaty Investors), and L-1 (Intracompany Transferees), on the other hand, can apply for a so called Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Spouses of employment-based immigrant visa holders, who are also applying for a permanent resident status, can similarly file for an EAD. This authorization allows them to seek employment or even become self-employed during their stay in the United States. In order to apply, form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization needs to be filed online.


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