How the United States H4 Visa Traps Foreign Workers’ Family Members in a ‘Golden Cage’

Stack of paperwork for US immigration. Image from Flickr by Stephanie Pakrul. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Stack of paperwork for US immigration. Image from Flickr by Stephanie Pakrul. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It has been dubbed the “golden cage”, “depression visa” and “prisoner visa” in various reports and comments. The United States’ H4 visa allows immediate family members of those awarded an “H” visa for temporary work to reside in the US, but not much else. 

Holders of this visa cannot obtain a Social Security number, the de facto national identification number for taxation, job applications and other tracking purposes. By contrast, dependents of another temporary work visa, the L1, are allowed to work in the US after obtaining employment authorization from the United States Immigration Service.

Many of the spouses of “H” visa holders are mostly women and are professionals with valuable skills to contribute to the workforce. But they cannot get a job in the US, work remotely for a company back home or even freelance, according to the terms of the H4 visa. So H4 visa holders resort to continuing education, limited volunteering or illegal freelance work, a minimal use of their skills.

A recent petition started by Shah Peerally, a lawyer in California, demands that the US government allow them more rights.

A Facebook page titled “H4 visa, a curse” has close to 5,000 likes. An associated blog details experiences of H4 visa holders and highlights the depression, frustration and sometimes familial abuse attached to a visa that restricts employment, especially for immigrants who have no social support system in a new country. For instance, Shilpa – Future entrepreneur writes:

I have masters degree and 3 year of work experience from my home country, all in waste. By the time I will get my work permit I will be 45 year old and there will be more than 10 year of career gap in my resume. Which employer will like to hire with this huge career gap. 2) To live in America and afford the daily expense with kids is very hard and that is why we are not able to buy a house. 3) H4 visa woman are abused, one of my friends Mother was abused very badly. All because she did not have any identity card, no money, nowhere to go. These abuse cases go unreported because h4 dependents don’t have an identity.

Elsewhere on the Internet, Jaspreet, in an open letter to President Obama, writes:

We were both from top institutes back in India, there was a time when I had a great career , making more money than my husband, but I came to the US to support my husband's career

ppl who have been here since there education and paid taxes for yrs are the ones most affected. The sad part is, even if you grant us a small favor and authorize work, what will the wives do after a gap of 7 yrs in their career?

Geetha Krishnan, a chemical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area, tweets:

A study of immigrant entrepreneurs in the US, commissioned by the National Venture Capital Association, found that in recent years immigrants started one-third of US venture-backed companies that became publicly traded. 

Recognizing the value that immigrants bring to the culture and economy, President Barack Obama's administration announced  on May 7, 2014, proposals to allow a subset of H4 visa holders to work in the US. The number of qualified candidates is around 100,000 at the current time. 

The rationale for this was explained by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker: “These individuals are American families in waiting. Many tire of waiting for green cards and leave the country to work for our competition. The fact is we have to do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States, and these regulations put us on a path to do that.”

As with any immigration reform, the proposal has been greeted by a mixture of fear and triumph. Interested individuals have posted positive and negative comments on, a website that allows the public to track and comment on federal rulemaking. It received 12,922 comments before the commenting period was closed on July 11.

Cecilia Curtis vocalizes the worry of many Americans vis a vis immigration reform:

This proposed rule change does NOT help American workers who are indeed skilled and unable to find work. Why does this Administration continue to put up roadblocks to hurt the American worker? Further, why does this Administration continue to bypass congress when it comes to immigration? There are way too many immigrants (legal and illegal) here in the US now. Our country cannot continue to absorb these excess workers/people. This is such a bad idea.

Vivek Pandey, however, disagrees that the law will divert jobs from citizens:

My wife has years of very high quality work experience and can easily find employment were this rule in effect. Please bear in mind that this rule does not in any way promote the ‘low cost’ worker rhetoric that has become rampant. The kind of job that my wife and many other spouses on H4 visa compete for require a very high level of expertise and experience.

Meanwhile, the production company of an immigration attorney in California, Shah Peerally Productions, is working on a movie to educate the general public about the trauma associated with the H4 visa:

It remains to be seen how long it takes for the work permits to be issued to dependent visa holders. This proposal is a step toward in fixing a system which handicaps qualified spouses of qualified workers, hailed with relief by many prisoners of the “golden cage”.


  • RKsharma2012

    Republicans should shift discussion on immigration related to jobs. Carefully see on one hand all white collars jobs are going to immigrants, look at IT industry in USA, all jobs are being controlled by South Indians who don’t hire anybody except one of their own kind (nepotism, corruption and large scale bribery is going on), end result largest technical genocide on Americans in White collars Jobs.


    I am sure democrats and women also need jobs, no matter how feminist she can be, there must be someone in her home whether father, brother, son, cousin who doesn’t have a job, a job which has gone to South Indian or Chinese because company won’t train the American. In IT industry one can look around and see 2-3 Americans in whole department. It is all South Indians.

    Coming to illegal immigration, again democrats will get one party government for ever, if this legalization of 11-14 million illegals is done by giving them citizenship. Just give them life long work permit and no citizenship, no right to vote, make it mandatory if they take healthcare and public welfare, there work permits will be revoked along with deportation, make e-verify mandatory, punish employers who hire illegals. I am sure democrats may not understand congested roads, burden on schools, healthcare and burden on natural resources like water, but they will understand increase in crime (since it is difficult to track illegal Mexicans and Central Americans) and loss of jobs. Again someone in democrat home must have lost job in construction industry, maintenance industry like lawn mowing etc. Bottomline is administration can’t run America on few burger flipping jobs and by just giving speeches, also who will pay for welfare once all of them are on welfare.

    • Tharun

      You are the same guy who author this book right. Everybody knows you are north indian guy born here and jealous of indians. Just curious where your parents are from arent they from India.

    • John Doe

      The issue is simple if you do not think the H4 visa is fair, then stay in your country of origin. The H1-B visa is designed to have someone work on a temporary basis, it is difficult to obtain and offers issues for employer and employee alike. I understand that someone who wants to work in the US would want to have his (or her) family here, but right now the rule is you can come but you cannot work.
      The L-1 visa is also intended to be temporary, but by tying it to the employer (it is non-transferable) it becomes a matter of the company deciding this employee is so valuable working in the US that they are willing to sponsor for a green card. The ability for the spouse to work does seem unfair in comparison, especially since the L-2 allows more flexibility than the “parent visa”.
      But the rules are what they are and they are designed to make sure this country is not overwhelmed by immigrants working here and blocking employment for those born here. The rules for applying for a green card sponsorship requires the company posts the opening and then demonstrate that there is no one already here who could do the job.
      The system is needlessly complex and a big burden, but it doesn’t change the fact that no one is forcing anyone to come to the US for work or to accompany their family in a move.

      • ollieallears

        This country is not ‘overwhelmed’ by immigrants based on work-related visas. To the contrary. It is overwhelmd because of the current emphasis of US immigration on family reunion (leading to chain-immigration).
        ONE MILLION permanent immigrants arrive every year. They are mainly allowed in based on family categories or because they won the visa lottery.
        And yes all ONE MILLION of them start to look for a job. As there are no requirements regarding education, skills, work experience, or the ability to speak English they are indeed competing for employment with just about each and every USer.

        My husband came on an H-1B and gave the best years of his life this country and its economy. Helped to save and lso create employment for USers.
        So as a ‘reward’ I should have lived separated for the eight (8) years it took to get his Green Card ?

        Already the U.S. is no longer getting the worlds best and brightest. They now go to countries where BOTH spouses are welcome and allowed to build a life.

  • American Jobs

    Simple solution. 2nd worker should obtain 2nd H4 visa. This ensures adequate scrutiny so that H4 is not misused to allow multiple workers under single visa.

    • ollieallears

      If you think the temporary visas for work are misused/abused, you are right.
      However it is not fair to punish the wives of the H-1B workers for that.

      More employers bring workers in on L-1 visas because the H-1B’s are so hard to get. That is not a proper use of the L-1.
      But the wives of L-1 workers (L-2) can apply for a work permit !

    • ollieallears

      No idea what you are talking about have you ?
      And yet voicing an opinion. Way to go !

  • […] by Ryan P. Long, September 16, 2014, linking to How the United States H4 Visa Traps Foreign Workers’ Family Members in a ‘Golden Cage’ by Tejasvini Prasad, Global Voices Online, September 12, 2014. 4 […]

  • Aboli

    The only thing I want to understand in all this is why the ban on working for my home country or doing freelance for them?

    • Tejasvini

      From what I can tell, the H visa was introduced in the early 1990s, a time when remote employment was uncommon and the law states that anyone living on US soil cannot work, period. The rationale is that the job they are doing (employer location unspecified) can be done by an American citizen.

      If this new law passes it will go a long way to “modernizing” the visa.

      • BenguluruHuduga

        Own up for your choices. Your article deliberately ignores the choices H4 women have, higher education & studies and then moving to work force.

        If you can’t work, this country is not for you !

        • ollieallears

          I was already educated !
          Over 80% of H-1B visas is issued to males.

          Apparently you do not understand the problem: we are NOT ALLOWED to work (hard).

          For an H-4 visa holder this country is most certainly not the country of ‘opportunity’.

          I wanted to study but with one income that was not possible. It is very expensive to do a masters program and very hard to be allowed into it.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            “I wanted to study but with one income that was not possible.”

            Rubbish.. I managed my wife’s studies with 1 income & yes I am in the top 10 firms of US in my field of software engineering.

            How ever what is needed is team work & planning. This is what we did:

            1) Stayed in a not so great apartment saving us 350$ a month.

            2) Did not use a smartphone.

            3) We used only 1 phone which was prepaid that she kept.

            4) We had our expenses per week = 30$ on groceries and 50$ on Indian stores. Net cost = 80$ per week.

            5) Did not eat out for 1.5 years

            6) No vonage

            7) Calling to India was only via Google Hangouts & phone calls made only during festivals.

            8) Zero leverage / debt. Including my car.

            Add in all this , the cumulative savings is about 1000 $ a month. Over 12 months = 12000 USD . Now add in govt taxation that gives you money back for being dependent = about 4000$ . You have 16000$ in 1 year.

            Now look @ your life and see your wastage.. , Yes if you are on a contracted phone you loose money.

            own up for choices you make. Yes, you can’t have it all. Sacrifices need to be made for dreams to come true.

            “Over 80% of H-1B visas is issued to males.”

            — What is male / female ration in any master’s program ?

          • ollieallears

            All those things we did too, or better did not.
            Although we had a higher phone bill – this as in the early 90ies previous century and my mom missed me.

            I was hesitant to invest so much money when my status was so insecure. I did not know whether I would ever earn that money back.
            We lived rather far away from a university. So I would been obliged to rent a room during the week to be able to follow classes.
            Also the study I was most interested in was a private university with high tuition.
            And maybe after having finished studying back home and being 45 years old I did not want to go back to school.

            You have no idea what this is all about yet you give opinions in a very unpleasant way.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            “I was hesitant to invest so much money when my status was so insecure”

            Reward is proportional to risk one takes. Its basic laws of economics that you have forgotten.

            I may sound unpleasant, but heck I don’t beat around the bush but state just facts.

          • ollieallears

            Not facts, but uninformed opinions.
            Again, no idea what it is all about – yet you blabber on.
            You must really like the sound of you own voice very much.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Sorry, Life is the same for my wife & you. I din’t see her cribbing, but i see you & authors of such articles cribbing.

            Of course this is not a socialistic society which is what you need. Europe is pretty socialistic. May be you are better off there.

          • ollieallears

            I feel sorry for your wife.
            This issue has nothing to do with socialism.
            We are no cribbing.
            We are addressing a situation that should not have existed.

            Does your wife have a job ?
            In the US no Social Security and no fee Medicare for those that have not worked in a paid job. Does not matter that they were not allowed to.
            Does your wife know this ?

            I am 65 and as a result of the H-4 visa I now cannot afford to see a doctor, or have the proper meds for a condition that I have.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            I have outlined what ones needs to do .. The planning starts from the moment one steps into the country !

            Yes she does have a job again with a top 20 firm .. & no one should never feel sorry for some one who works hard & gets their dreams.

            I feel sorry for you, may be you should have put a little more thought in how your life should have proceeded that you are cribbing even 20 years later.

            Yes, i agree medical industry is a scam in US. No debates there.

          • ollieallears

            When we left in 1994 the internet as we know it know did not exist. It was very hard to get information.
            I based my decisions on what our lawyer told us.

            I am not ‘cribbing’. You show typical male behavior. You cannot win on arguments so you attack me on the fact that I argue.

            I am please to hear that your wife has a job – she is one of the few that got lucky.
            I was not lucky.

            And again you have no idea what I am talking about. This is not about medical/insurance industry. My problem is that I HAVE NOT WORKED BECAUSE I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO – and now have no Soc.Sec. or Medicare rights.

            You have a lot to learn – but with your mind full of male righteousness I do not think you are able to absorb any new/different information.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            You based your life decisions on what some stupid lawyer told you & paid him / her money for that ?

            Uh, now i see your problem.

            No wonder. It was nothing to do with luck. People who came in 90’s are actually lucky.

            Any one who wrote Java in their resume got a good paying job. Cisco was a big firm that hired massively back then !

            its not the same case today. Nothing to do male / female. Its all to do with understanding market shifts.

          • ollieallears

            Wow you are not only insulting towards women but also towards lawyers ?
            No I based the decison on the regulations as they were in place with the US Government at that time.
            As I have no time machine I could not foresee the changes that would be made soon after.
            And I had no idea most USers are so dishonest, ignorant, inefficient.
            That lawyer was very good bytheway – he got us the H-1B. But my husbands employer did not allow us to work with him for the Green Card.
            I was suspicious about that but would could I do – apart from leaving and asking my husband for a divorce.

            I am happy you understand market shifts. However you know nothing about immigration and you think you understand that too.

            When my husband’s petition for his H-1B was filed in 1993 the requirements were quite a bit more for that than ‘just writing some Java’.

          • ollieallears

            The lawyer told me the situation as it was at that moment (whn I had to make a decision).
            He/she nor I could foresee the changes the US government would make shortly afterwards. New rules, new procedures, temporarily larger numbers, etc.

          • Falcons5677

            not every couple is understanding and sacrificial like yours. mine is a totally different situation, i’m a male and i’m facing the heat because of the h4 visa. i don’t even get right to give my opinion, because the moment i speak i get bogged down and my journey and relationship with my wife has come to and end, because she has already threatening to divorse me and ordering me to go back to india( literally using the word @#$uk out of here and buy your own ticket). HAD it been me, i would handle this situation totally diferrent, my treatment would be different. to make matter worse we have a 3 year old daughter.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            And yes, I have to congratulate my wife for choices she made & understood… Not many females cut down on expenses.

            Most females get carried away by life in US : easy money ( which is essentially debt that needs to be paid back ), big houses, big cars etc etc. Most also fall to peer pressure.

            Next time, don’t say something is not possible. If you are prepared to work hard and get it, yes, its still possible for current generation, though I can not be sure of next.

          • ollieallears


            You should be ashamed the way you talk about women !

          • BenguluruHuduga

            If it was a personal / family issue, I can’t really comment on it apart from saying : you should have gone about what’s important to your life & find support in a family that allows you to do it. This is a personal choice & yes choices have consequences.

            If you are blaming the govt, sorry, its not true.

          • ollieallears

            It is the US Government that says I cannot work here.
            So yes I bame to US Government and rightly so.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            for your own personal choices ?

          • ollieallears

            No – for the way choices were made impossible.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            So did some one force you to come ? I suspect no. You made a choice & did not like it.. So you want a third party ( in this case a govt) to make life easier for you & if they don’t you blame them for your lack of success ?

            Here is another thought : Forget what they do & focus on your life.

          • ollieallears

            I was not asking for an easier life.
            I was asking for A LIFE. Period.

            I stop. There is no arguing with an uninformed idiot.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            There is no point talking to some blaming every one else for their lack of efforts or consequences of their choices ..

            Yep, life sucks in the sense every ying has a yang. Mathematics & science can never be ignored for every. It will catch up some day.

          • ollieallears

            Oh please, sorry, I have to puke.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Another liberal moron !

          • BenguluruHuduga

            ? What did i talk about women ? All I have said is write about women who do stuff & take challenges successfully. Yes, they have a different mindset.

            Women ( and men included ) who expect a free lunch, should be ashamed of themselves.

          • ollieallears

            I never expected a free lunch ! I expected to be able to work to pay for my lunch myself. Just like I did back home.

      • ollieallears

        Anyone living on US soil cannot work ?!

        Furthermore in de mid 90ies mail, phone, fax, etc. existed.

      • ollieallears

        This change in the existing rule gives the majority of H-4 visa holders exactly NOTHING.

    • ollieallears

      H-4 has nothing to do with (un)employment etc. That is a misunderstanding that pops up all the time. The explanation is much simpeler.

      The US Government does not want you here. Your H-4 visa is for (conjugal) visits only. You are supposed to stay in your country of origin, live and work there. And find the time and the money to visit your husband from time to time.
      You can come to live in the US ‘for real’ once the Green Cards are issued.

      The US does not want an H-4 visa holder to have ties to US and to US society.
      That your husband lives, works, sleeps, eats, sweats, in the US, is not seen as a tie.

      When I stated to politicians that I would have been separated from my husband for over eight years, I was told that the US Government prefers you divorce your husband when he is offered a job in the US.

      I was also told that the US Government thinks that ‘we people’ always live with our in-laws as apparently that is seen as ‘our culture’.
      I am from north-western Europe so I have no idea what that means.

      • BenguluruHuduga

        Nonsense. You are expecting a free lunch when it is not possible. Work harder dear.

        • ollieallears

          I did not expect a free lunch. What a stupid remark.
          I expected to be allowed to re-build my life in the US by working hard.
          You have no idea what it means to have an H-4 visa and I feel sorry for your wife.
          I am not your ‘dear’. Keep your sexist ideas to yourself please.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            I reject your notion that you are willing to work hard.. No you don’t. If you were, you would have found a way.

          • ollieallears

            That is the stupid remark we get too often.
            There is no way. If you have an H-4 visa and you work, or volunteer, or start a business, or even if you work for an employer outside of the US – you break the law.

            Again you have no idea what you are talking about !

          • BenguluruHuduga

            There is no way if you want to be permanently on H4. There is a way if you want to move away from H4 to F1 ot J1.. . Moving to H1 directly is not possible as its loss of revenues to keep you away from job for 6 months.

          • ollieallears

            Again, uninformed.
            Once you start a Green Card procedure you cannot apply for a study visa anymore. For those visas it is mandatory that you do not have immigrant intent.
            The Green Card application shows the immigrant intent.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Yes, Greencard is different. The status must always be changed before filing for Greencard. Its common sense ! Most firms wait for 1-2 years on H1 before filing greencard. 1-2 years is not enough for a lady on H4 to change her status ?

          • ollieallears

            Again, change into which status ?!

          • ollieallears

            The co. my husband started to work for told us they wanted to file immediately. That this was a lie I only discovered a few years later.

          • John Doe

            Why couldn’t you find an employer who would sponsor you for an H1-B visa?
            It is difficult but not impossible… heck your husband managed to do it. If you are such a valuable worker than certainly you should be very employable.

          • ollieallears

            My husband worked in software engineering – that’s where the H-1B visas are mostly issued for (males in STEM-professions).

            You underestimate the requirements.
            – The co. that hires you must be ‘H-1B worthy’ – in size and financial stability, etc.
            – The job must be H-1B worthy – this means it should at least require a bachelors degree.
            I could do my job back home because I have (the equivalent) of three college/university degrees.
            But for the type of jobs I held and the work I did in my small co., is in the official USCIS-listing the bachelors degree not a requirement.

            Furthermore, one is not allowed to apply for a job that is outside of one’s profession – you must prove you worked in a similar job back home. So a ‘job-change’ in the U.S. is not possible.

            This meant acquiring an H-1B visa was impossible for me.
            There are no other work permits available.

            Futhermore even if I had been able to find a job and a way to circumvent the problems described above, that job would not necessarily have been located in the same erea where my husband worked.

            It is so easy to judge if you lack all knowlegde about the issue at hand.
            As posters here proof over and over.
            USers seem to think it is easy to get a work permit. Just as for it.
            That is not how it goes !

          • MG

            Alright, now the cribbing about “Governments not doing anything” comes to US. This has been happening in India for ages and now it starts in here too. If a baby is born, then the culprit is government, which cannot stop population growth and if he is not born, then its again the government, which does not allow people to have babies. There are 1000s of ladies who have converted their H4 to H1Bs in the 90s, by attempting to do something about their situation. And I agree, there are 1000s more who have not attempted to do anything and kept blaming the government for not allowing them to work. Just go to the valley (SF bay area), north-east (NY, NJ, etc.) or even to the north-west (Seattle, Portland areas), you’ll find 1000s of women like these, who did something about their situation and are happily working. Stop cribbing and find opportunities around you. USA is a land of opportunities and not for people blaming the government for everything which they could not get.

          • ollieallears

            FYI: USCIS (previous INS) has a list of professions that H-1B visas can be petitioned for. Professions not on this list are not eligible for the visa. One must have a degree for and/or experience with the profession the H-1B is petitoned for. So applying for another, H-1B worthy job, is impossible.

            FYI: working, volunteering, having abusiness, working for an employer outside of the U.S., it is ALL forbidden. That does not leave much possibilities.
            Of course some women were successful in converting their visa. But many more were not successful – especially not after the cap started to get hit every year. Now 80% of the H-1B visas goes to young males.

            This has nothing to do with ‘blaming the government’. This is just pointing out how this regulation works very detrimental for a certain – rather small -group of women. Who after many years of unvoluntary unemployment have no chance anymore on the labor market. Not in the U.S. but also not in the country of origin.

            For H-4’s the U.S. is not a country of opportunities ! And what makes it worse is that there is not a logic reason for the rule that prohibit us from creating a life here.
            Yes ! there is ‘cribbing’. Mostly by USers that have no idea about the immigration regulations, the numbers, the categories. And that cribbing is exactly what keeps the rules in place.
            If the H-1B visa is abused/misused – and yes it is – fix that issue. But do not punish a number of women at random for situation they did not create and cannot change.

            What the political situaton in India and babies being born (wherever) have to do with this issue I do not understand. But it is a good example of the muddy way USers discuss immigration issues.

          • ollieallears

            The job I held in my country of origin is not on the USCIS list of H-1B’s can be issued for.
            Jobs that exist for a longer time already and that in older days one could do without college/university education are not H-1B ‘worthy’ – despite the fact that nowadays one will not be hired without a college/university degree.

            The USCIS list contains mostly ‘newer jobs’ like IT etc.

            You (also !) did not now this important H-1B fact ?!

          • ollieallears

            There was no way and there still is not for most H-4 women.
            H-4 is basically a visa for conjugal visits only.

          • siya

            you and your husband did not want to invest in your career. how is us to blame for that. if you wanted to work so badly you could have gotten f1 from community college. the thing is if you are willing to work hard to achieve something, you will active seek opportunities. you n your husband didn’t

          • ollieallears

            For an F-1 visa you cannot have immigration intent. Which we had as we had Green Card procedures going. (At least that is what we were told.) So that option was not possible, the same for M-1, J-1, etc.
            An H-4 visa holder is allowed to go to college, university bytheway.

            What good would have that done me – six years in different community colleges and additionally two more years of unemployment – before I was allowed to accept a job ?!
            I was educated already. I was offered a job just about every other week in between 1995 and 2000. But had to say ‘no’ each and every time.
            So how did I not invest in a career ?

            Your insults based are based on no real knowledge about H-4 and other immigration regulations.
            I am not ‘cribbing about government not doing anything’. I do not expect handouts or freebies. I just wanted to be able to take care of myself. For H-4 visa holders the US is NOT the country of opportunity. Quite the contrary.

          • Durgesh Bhat Kalya

            I was reading these back and forth and how insulting one can get with ollieallears is very interesting to watch. She/he is stating reasons which are very true and specific for her case. There are thousands of H4 spouses who go through various emotions. If you are not on H4, you simply do not understand the depth of this problem. In reality, you should not need to wait for a life time to be eligible to work, you should not have to invest in education (going to F1), this is a big risk and a financial burden for the family, when you have perfectly good education already. I am a H1-B Visa holder, and my spouse (please do not generalize, as H4’s can be men or women) has gone from a perfectly weaved plan from college to job and then got married and lost the opportunity to be able to work. Some spouses find other ways to deal with this change of goals. Whatever the case, this is not easy, so do not provide your expert comments if you have no idea what it means to be on the H4 Visa. Now, after this long, when you get your EAD, you will feel NOTHING as all the avenues, time and industry has changed. It is again not impossible but is so difficult because of the aspect of human emotion that is involved, it does become nearly impossible to find a job.

          • ollieallears

            Thank you so much for these kind words.

            One addition: yes an H-4 can be man or woman, but 80% of H-4 visa holders are females.
            I also found that in case of a male H-4 there is a lot more effort put into getting the couple Green Cards and getting these timely.

            Some reactions of the many I got through the years:
            – From the first lawyer who – in 3 years – managed no results at all:
            “But nobody told me your Green Card procedure was IMPORTANT !”

            – From a learned professor at an esteemed university:
            “The H-4 and your wrecked life is fitting punishment for the MANY lives your husband ruined by coming here on H-1B !”

            – From a Rep politician (a very ‘family friendly’ one):
            “You should not have married your husband. Oh, you were already 12 years together before he was offered a job in the US ? Well, in that case you should have DIVORCED !
            What do you mean it would have been hard to pay for everything in your country on one income ? YOU PEOPLE LIVE IN FAMILY COMPOUNDS !”

          • Durgesh Bhat Kalya

            I am sorry you had to hear these words. They are outright ignorant. My wife is one of them brave hearts H4 Visa holder who is continuing to fight this battle. is her story. I would like to include your story as well in the article. I think when individuals search for information on H4 they should be able to get both sides of the story. Anyways, let me know if you are interested and I can do a email interview and it will be anonymous without names. Are you still on H4? My wife did get a EAD but she has a struggle now to get back into the workforce.

          • ollieallears

            We got after 8 years our Green Cards. By then I was 55 and my health had taken a big hit. As said, no one hires you if you have not worked for about 10 years.
            My husband was offered another job soon after and we landed in a spot with high unemployment – and for most employment that there is you need to be a citizen. I was even refused for a volunteer job with the county: no US citizen.
            Now I am over 65. No Soc. Sec. and I pay every month almost $ 600 for MediCare. H-4 is a gift that keeps on giving.

            I look at the debates an hear: “We are so generous when it comes to immigration !” “In this country all who want to work hard can achieve something !”
            But for an H-4, NO and NO.

            I wish your wife all the best !

  • BenguluruHuduga


    1) Coming to US on a H4 is an individual choice. US has not forced you to come on a H4. So own up for your choices instead of blaming the govt.

    2) There are provisions in the laws to change your status from H4 to what ever you want.

    H4-H1 is what most are looking for and is directly not possible. The reason is H1 gets filed by April & gets activated by October. Businesses do not like to wait a 6 month as it turns out a loss for them. To get around this do a higher degree in a field of your interest.

    Talented individuals always get hired irrespective of the state of economy.

    • ollieallears

      Nonsense. Women are hardly ever hired.

      No one chooses to give up her life ! on an H-4.

      I came 20 years ago, the waiting time for the Green card was then under two years. That’s what I signed on for.
      However my husbands first employer turned out to be dishonest and so were the lawyers he used. They ruined our procedure.
      New lawyers – several different ones – turned out to be even more incompetent.
      The lawyers lost our file and after that the Government managed to do the same.
      But one cannot self-petition and if the employers wants to use a certain law firm there’s not much you can do about that.
      Waiting times for the procedure by then had become several years.

      Our Green cards took eight years.
      If you have not worked for eight years, no one will hire you anymore.
      You are damaged material.

      But you can also not go home anymore because there also no employers wants a person which such a long period of unemployment.

      So by not allowing us to work they make impossible that we leave.
      Rather stupid.

    • randomperson

      Funny, we did exactly that with spouse. Get employed by a consulting firm, they apply for H1. Switching H1s is easy. Of course, you have to be in an industry where the labor market is weak.

      • BenguluruHuduga

        It depends. There was a time when it worked. Umm, not so much now, at least for a chunk of them via the consultant route. Since 2010 a number of consultant firms have been blacklisted.

      • ollieallears

        Well too bad that I did not know I would end up in the US, and too bad that when I was 15 years old I did not have the foresight to figure out what about THIRTY years later would be the most demanded knowledge.
        Yes I am much to blame for that oversight.

      • ollieallears

        No ! One needs a degree for and/or work experience in a job that is eligible for an H-1B visa.

  • BenguluruHuduga

    “So H4 visa holders resort to continuing education, limited volunteering or illegal freelance work, a minimal use of their skills.”

    Continuing education is minimal use of skills ? Yeah, if you don’t have an engineering degree. Females who have come on H4, have done Masters and phds. . You don’t write about them do you.

    US is a skills based economy. If market doesn’t value certain skills like a B.Com degree from India, what can govt do ? The individual has to work harder to improve his / her skills.

    • Tejasvini

      I’ll try to address all your points in this comment.

      Yes, coming to the US on H4 is a choice and there is a (longish) path to gainful employment in the market. However, we now have a situation where people with useful skills are not able to apply for jobs. This reform will put them in a position where their skills can be evaluated against the employment market. No one is going to hire an unqualified person, so your point “Talented individuals always get hired…” is valid irrespective of the H4 reform.

      Re: your comment about females with Masters and Phds, I’m confused. Are you saying that people with advanced non-US degrees are unemployable? Or employable?

      • BenguluruHuduga

        There are always employment opportunities. A company DOES NOT care for immigration status at time of interview , unless for cost / security considerations , they need to employ American citizens.

        Assume a firm files for H1. The problem with H4 is they have a waiting period from April to October 1 when H1 gets activated. Most businesses construe this as loss of productivity thereby impacting their revenues. Hires are always expected to be on job from day 1 & most firms have eliminated training programs too.

        Since its a loss of revenues, firms do not prefer H4 when they can get F1 or J1 on continued employment. Essentially, individuals on H4 are eaten by competition which is the essence of any capitalistic society.

        Govt has no role here. You need to understand capitalism.

        Let me tell you another thing : Even if reform goes through, most firms WILL NOT hire H4. The reason is firms get master’s & phd’ candidates coming out from American schools which is valued more.

        People with advanced degrees are always preferred. I have seen women do it. Write about such women who have taken up the challenges successfully.

        • ollieallears

          It is not called an H-1, but an H-1B.

          After I came in 1994 I was offered jobs all the time, all ver the place. In stores, offices, banks, doctors practices, etc.
          But I always had to decline as I had no work permit.

          For my profession one cannot get an H-1B.
          Furthermore stores, small businesses, cannot petition for H-1B’s.

          In my country of origin I also had my own small business. I helped create employment. Why was I not allowed to give that a try in the US ?
          The US has a very limited way of thinking.

          If H-4’s had been allowed to work and prosper, we could and would have contributed to the US economy.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            The market is telling you that your skills are useless. Get skills that market demands.

            No one is stopping you from owning your business in US. I suspect the investment has a limit & in today’s environment its quite foolish to open a business in US.

          • ollieallears

            An H-4 visa holder IS NOT ALLOWED TO WORK in her own business. Even of all clients are outside of the US.
            You really have no idea what you are talking about have you ?!

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Why do you want to be on H4 when you are allowed to change it !!

          • ollieallears

            Change it into what ?!
            We have a choice between divorcing our husbands when they get a job in the US – or go with them and be stuck with an H-4 visa. We have no other options.

      • BenguluruHuduga

        1 to 1.5 years is all what a master’s degree takes. Its not long !

        • ollieallears

          But it is expensive.
          You have no idea about the situation that you think you can have an opinion about.
          Ever thought about the fact that even if an H-4 manages to get a job offer that job could be at the opposite side of the US ?

          • BenguluruHuduga

            No. its not expensive if you plan it out… You need to cut down on your fat life style. Those star bucks coffes, contracted cell phones etc etc…

            Of course if you are saying your life style has to be same & expecting to pay for tuition, its not possible.

        • ollieallears

          And then ? With the H-4 one still is not allowed to work.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Here is what one needs to do:

            1) Come on H4
            2) Take some classes on H4 that counts towards the credits & apply for university in the first year
            3) Get formally admitted in second year of H4 & towards the end of second year convert to F1
            4) By then the husband’s greencard would probably be filed in 2 years of his H1 .. Graduate in the 3rd year with a job.

          • ollieallears

            Apparently you cannot read ?

            Our Green Cards procedure(s) took over eight (8) years.

            Furthermore it is not easy to go to a university if you live ‘in the boondocks’ and a university is more than half a days drive away.

            You think you know-all, but you know nothing !

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Ok, I give up ! you win, please put the blame of your failures on some one else.

          • ollieallears

            This isn’t about winning. This isn’t about blaming.
            This is simply about the fact that as a LEGAL immigrant I would have liked to have the opportunity to build a life here.
            FYI the H-B is a dual intent visa. Which means the US allows the intent to immigrate permanently.
            But to succesfully immigrate you must be able to use and expand your talents, your knowledge, your experience from day one.

            You were allowed to do that. So it is amazing how you keep insisting that women should not have that right.
            Are you from an Asian country ? That would explain some.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            Blimey, I never said women should not have the right.
            They have all the right. All I said is most find themselves in the situation they are in, is due to their own personal choices and now blame the govt.

            I did it, so did my wife. There are no differences… What laws apply to you & others , apply to me as well. When we (my wife & self ) can do it, so can others. It needs hardwork & planning.

            Immigration has always been hard in US since 1900’s… The reason is simple : Capitalistic societies do not want immigrants to depend on the govt for their living. It disrupts the economy. So by far, they try to get in people who are talented & are able to make their own roadways.

            Ever wondered why there is no visa for “low skilled workers” ?

          • ollieallears

            There is no proper visa for the needed lower skilled workers. Simply because it is cheaper to use illegal immigrants. These immigrants also can never asked for higher wages, better working conditions etc. because all it takes is one phone call to LaMigra.

            In the same vein H-1B workers are in indentured servitude as they need their employer to petition for a Green Card (there are exception but these do not apply to most workers).
            Which means they have to stay with that employer and do hi bidding.
            And if that employer is dishonest and lies about the card-procedure – as happened to us – the immigrant is in for years of stress and hurt.

            I NEVER depended on the governemnt for anything in my life. Not at home, not here.
            You have no idea about immigration regulations AND you are infected by rightwing drivel !
            FYI: just arrived immigrants have NO right to government subsidies or provisions.

            If it is so easy – why are 80% of H-4 visa holders women ?
            That is NOT because we spend too much money, are unwilling to work hard. Or because of all the other stupidities you have spouted here.
            It is because we are a small group, have no money, no power. So no one goes to bat for us. On top of that we have to suffer morons who vent incorrect facts and unfounded opinions.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            H1b workers can shift jobs. Indentured servitude ? Can not ask for higher wages ? One needs to grow the corporate ladder. Wage growth is tied to performance & yes, i have had wage growth even in recessions.

            Work for a top 10 firm in your field. You will see the difference.

            Huh, .. Point is you are expecting to be treated like a citizen or close to a citizen in a country which is not yours…

            Politicians are accountable to the people of the country first. When citizens see immigrants coming in & taking jobs, they will question them on policy issues. Since immigration can not be stopped in a free country, they make it tougher.

            Before commenting on some one else’s immigration : you need to realize its not your country and they haven’t invited you to come. Yes, rare cases US invites people to immigrate.

            Most males don’t come as dependents at least from my country.. They decline to come… So why can’t women make the same choice ?

          • ollieallears

            Again you show your ignorance.
            While the Labor Certification of the Green Card petition is being adjudicated – and that can take several years – the employe cannot change his job, his function, his location, etc.
            If he does the procedure becomes invalid, and he has to start all over again.
            So he has only limited possibilities for growth. He has continue to do the job that the Certification is filed for.
            Furthermore at the end of the procedure the employer must affirm he still wants to hire the employee.
            That makes the employee beholden to the employer. That is why it is called indentured servitude.

            Apparently you are also igirant about what it means to be a citizen or a prmanent resident for that matter.
            Immigration cannot be stopped ? The US has closed to door to new immigrants rather firmly. Basically the only way to immigrate into the US is through family reunion.
            Immediate Relatives and Fam. Cat.s take up 70% of all permanent visas. Another almost 20% are for refugees, asylum seekers. Miscillaneous and Lottery winners: another 5%. That leaves 5% for work/job/business related immigrants and their families.

            My husband was invited to come here and take a job. I see that as an invitation be be here albeit temporarily. Then he was asked to stay permanently as they could not find many USers with his education, skills, experience, talents. Again, an invitation.

            Indeed from your part of the world it is mostly males that bring females and then treat them as second rate beings. As said the H-1B program is sexist and racist – ot is very hard for a female to get an H-1B visa. Employers do not like workers that can get pregnant and maybe work less, but cost more in healtinsurance.
            I am happy to say that from my country – and from more developed countries – hardly any H-4’s are coming anymore. I am one of the people that warns them against it, tekks them not to throw away their lives in a country that does not appreciate them or their efforts.

            Which means the US is now getting second best on H-1B visas. The ones that take jobs USers could probably do just as well. Not the ones able to do amazing things.
            There is an expression that fits: to cut of the nose to spite the face. The US has been doing that for years by denying H-4’s to have a life here.

            Politicians should look out for the US as a whole and for the longer term.
            But as they need all a lot of money to be re-elected, they go for short term ‘solutions’ based on populistic demands.
            Those demands are based on stunning igorance and unbelievable small mindedness.

          • Mona

            Very enlightening to read your comments! I understand you and your wife made sacrifices that paid off. Congratulations!
            However, I find that I do not agree with your black-and-white perspective on women that are living on H4 in US. I came to US following my husband, I sold my small business in Bangalore and came to California for a better life for my family, and my kids. “why can’t women make the choice”. The choice was to stay in India and be independent but separated, or come to US and be dependent. I chose to keep my family together.
            I have management skills, US govt. will not sponsor H1B for management positions, they have enough of that here.
            I understand that your theory is “do whatever it takes” to find a job here. Acquire a skill according to the market trend etc. etc.
            I already have the skills are I am passionate about, and that is very clear to me.
            So I made a conscious choice to bid my time, I volunteer at my kids schools, I read, I enjoy my life here, I use ‘smartphone’ and travel, much more than I did in India.
            And I am part of the people who are actively pushing for reform, allow H4 visa holders to work in US.
            You can wish us luck! Your wife studied and found employment! I am already skilled, and I plan to open my own business in US and will hire people to work with me.
            The law is unjust, its stopping me for working when everyone else is allowed to do just that. Its time it was re-evaluated and made ‘fair’ to all.
            In the labyrinth, you keep urging to find another path!
            What I and the others are saying is this, if there are more of us, we will push the roadblock away, and follow the path we are destined for! That is, to be allowed to work in our chosen profession. I do not wish to be an ‘Engineer’ or a ‘Nurse’ to work here.
            Also, I used to think men and women are equal in every respect but experience has taught me that its not always the case. Where men make lots of sacrifices in one area, women do in a lot others. We manage to strike a balance, but women are still the main caretakers of home and kids. Expecting them to think and act like ‘men’ is not practical. We each have our responsibilities to consider.
            My husband knows the sacrifices I make, and I know he would like to share the burden of earning for the family with me. I want that too.

            Hence my support for H4 Dependents work permit law!

          • BenguluruHuduga

            I am confused. You say you were a business owner in Bangalore. You also say you want to open a business in US .. Then you say the law stopped you from working for some one else. If you are looking to open a business why are you wasting time looking to work for some one else ?
            If you have made a conscious choice of home maker, I see no reason why you have the need to look for work. Remember its a choice..unless you made it reluctantly which then becomes a force..

            I love home makers. They tend to get the upbringing right & invariably reduces the number of potential criminals in society.

            If there is a financial need to work , it only means one of the two things :

            1) Current earnings is not sufficient
            2) Lifestyle is bloated with lot of waste.

            Generally its the second. Most skilled people tend to get paid well.
            MBA from other countries are not hired particularly those in sales & marketing. Most of times, this involves client interface and communication skills come into play here. Immigrants generally lose out here. Clients tend to prefer some one who they can relate to.. Ever wondered why there are no American salesman / saleswoman in China.

            There is equality. If you see inequality, you are likely ignoring laws of economics, mathematics & physics .. No corporate takes a decision w/o getting the economics into picture ..

      • ollieallears

        We are basically given the choic between a divorce and stay home or come with our husband and be choked by H-4.
        When the H-1B program started the wait for a Green card was under two years.
        But the Green card takes easily 6-12 years.
        That means we become unamployable for the REST OF OUR LIVES !
        When the backlog in H-1B to Green Card convesrion started a solution should have ben found for the H-4 visa holders.

        A solution was found for the L-2’s and shortly after for the E-2 spouses.
        They are allowed to work/ also work outside their own co.

    • ollieallears

      We had to move about every 18 months because of my husbands job(s). And after 6 years we had to leave to country and live for about the same period outside of the U.S.
      Again, easy to have an opinion if you do not have to live the reality.

      • BenguluruHuduga

        Ok. If you didn’t like moving you should have changed the job. It’s a reasonable request to the male as well.

        • ollieallears

          I did not say I had a problem with the many moves – although being kicked out of the US and back was a bit much – I mentioned it because you stated that H-4’s could so easily have done (addiitonal) education for an (advanced) degree.
          Moving so often meant by the time I had done the admission procedure(s) I had to leave already.

          You show you do not know much about the H-1B/H-4 visas. One cannot just ‘change jobs’. The H-1B visa is job specific. For another job a new H-1B had to be requested (by the new employer). In ‘our time’ that was a bit more complicated than it is now.

          Furthermore I was on H-4 so I was not allowed to have a job. That is what the discussion is about – or did you miss that ?!

          • BenguluruHuduga

            People change jobs on h1 all the time. I did too. During interview time this must be specifically stated. Top firms always cooperate if they choose to hire an immigrant. Firms also don’t discriminate. If they don’t want an immigrant for a position they clearly state so in job description. Example would be security related jobs that involve govt.

            I agree it’s hard to move if wife studies. This is a team work thing and upto the couple to handle the situation on what needs to be done. Govt can’t be blamed.

          • ollieallears

            I do not believe that you came to the U.S. on an H-1B visa.
            You are too ignorant about the major issues involving this visa.

            Why are you going on about ‘blaming the government’ ?
            I simply stated the rules – as laid down by the U.S. Fed. Government.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            I am not ignorant about the issues. I have approached the problem differently which has borne results.

          • ollieallears

            Yes you are ignorant – as you prove by your postings.

          • BenguluruHuduga

            So says an individual without results. Yeah right !

          • ollieallears

            Yes I threw away my life. But not by choice.
            It is what the US government requires from most H-4 visa holders.
            That in hindsight I could and should have made other choices – is a moot issue.
            Hindsight is always 20/20.
            You were simply more lucky. (And I am happy for you and especially for your wife !)

  • Ingrid

    H4 visa stay back in India. Please don’t come here and ask for sympathy. Government’s responsibility is to solve the current unemployment problem for Americans. If your wives are so depressed please go back to India and have a career in your own country. All you people are abusing H1-B Visa’s.

    • ollieallears

      The H-4 issue has NOTHING to do with unemployment in the U.S.
      If you want to address the job market issue you should ask for other measures !

      1. When it comes to permanent immigration (green card):
      – stop the family reunion immigration at absurdum as it is currently possible and the chain immigration that rsukts from it.
      – stop the yearly visa lottery.

      2. For temporary immiration (nonimmigrant vias):
      1. stop the abuse/misuse of the H-B visas.
      2. do the same for L-1 etc.
      3. make the rules for J-1, F-1, M-1 visas much stricter.
      3. stop colleges and universities from attracting foreign students just to make money of them (they tend to stay).
      4. shorten OPT periods and make rules stricter.
      5. enforce the rules for B-2 visas.

      I agree with you that the H-1B visa category is abused/misused BY EMPLOYERS. But to punish the H-4 women for an issue they if not create and cannot change is ridiculous. Also not very productive. Employers love your ignorance and how you keep pointing at that small group instead of addressing the real issues that should be reformed.
      Big companies are already moving into other visa categories like L-1 and J-1 to bring in workers and abusing/misusing those categories.
      (Coincidentally, women with L-2 and J-2 visas ARE allowed to work.)

      FYI: Not all H-4 women come from India !

  • Jim M

    Eventually, most people reach the same conclusion:

    Move to Canada

    or Australia or many other countries were the immigration process is much more streamlined and an H1-B visa holder can get permanent residence for the entire family in less than 6 months.

    The message from the USA is very clear: your spouse is not welcome.

    So instead choose a country that is welcoming. I have several friends in Canada right now and the one thing I hear the most is “should have moved to Canada years ago”.

    With this executive action Obama will hurt the immigration discussion for years, perhaps decades. There is no end game, no light at the end of the tunnel, this can go on forever with plenty of blame on all sides. Just move out, it really isn’t as hard as you think and you will be surprised by the speed of the whole process.

    I did my fair share of fighting for immigration reform, but it is now time to move on. The message from USA is clear: You (immigrants) are not welcome, but fortunately not all nations are like that.

  • somashekara shivarudraiah

    very nice article tejasvini prasad. hope all H4 people get the EAD soon, there are some really bright brains on H4 who will open up to new business and employment and support families and thus economy.


  • […] proper to freedom – which is why the T-A is so typically dubbed the ‘prisoner visa’. As Global Voices notes, “Holders of this visa can’t get hold of a Social Security quantity, the de facto […]

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