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Apply for H4 EAD: A First-Timer's Guide to the Application Process

Hello! If you are planning to apply for an H4 EAD for the first time, I'm here to help you step-by-step, right from the H4 EAD eligibility criteria to the required documents.

Also, I'll share some tips to avoid mistakes and ensure a successful application. If you're a spouse or dependent of an H1B visa holder, this guide will make the application process simple.

Even though you are applying for an extension or renewal, the process is pretty much similar. I will keep highlighting throughout the blog what's needed for renewal.

H4 EAD Application Process for First-Time Applicants

Overall, I will explain them in detail which will cover all the aspects of the H4 EAD process. If I have missed something, feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below and I will try to add those details to the best of my knowledge.

  1. First, we will check the eligibility criteria

  2. Next, gather the necessary documents required for the H4 EAD application

  3. After that, fill out form I-765

  4. Submit the application

  5. Wait for USCIS processing and approval

  6. Receive H4 EAD card (and SSN if applicable)

  7. Go through FAQs about the H4 EAD application

H4 EAD Eligibility Criteria for First-Time Applicants

Before we jump into eligibility criteria, please note that

  • You can file H4 EAD only when you are physically present in the US

  • You don't need any job offer to apply for H4 EAD

  • You can not file H4 EAD online, as of Feb 2023, this can be done only by mail. F1 visa holders are eligible for online application though, you can read this in detail in this blog

Now, let's see what the USCIS website says for Employment authorization for H4 dependent spouses

Primary H1B visa holder should have an approved I-140.


If primary visa holder is on H1B status under AC21 sections 106(a) and (b) i.e. your H1B has been extended beyond 6 years and you have PERM filed (pending or approved) and I-140 filed (pending or approved) for over 365 days, then also you are eligible to file H4 EAD. Consult with your employer/ attorney for this case.

USCIS H4 EAD Eligibility Criteria
USCIS H4 EAD Eligibility

Case 01: H4 EAD with approved I-140

If you are the principal beneficiary of an approved form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker then you are eligible for H4 EAD.

For example, children (unmarried) under the age of 21 and spouses of H1B visa holders are eligible for H-4 status, and so for H4 EAD.

So if your primary visa holder is on a valid H1B status and has an approved I-140 (either from your current employer or past employer, just make sure it's not revoked by checking the status online) and your visa type says H-4, you are good to take benefit of H-4 EAD.

Case 02: H4 EAD with pending PERM or I-140 (H1B > 6 years)

If the primary H1B visa holder has been granted an extension on H1B after six-year under the AC21 act i.e. you are in your 7th year of H1B and your PERM is pending for more than 365 days then also you can apply for H4 EAD.

If your PERM is approved but I-140 is pending, still you can apply for H4 EAD. Again for this case, please talk to your employer/ attorney. This happens when there is a massive backlog in USCIS processing for PERM or I-140, sometimes it takes 1-2 years for approval.

Reference: Under AC21 § 106, an H-1B nonimmigrant can receive H-1B status beyond the six-year maximum, in one-year increments, if 365 days or more have passed since either an application for Alien Labor Certification (Form ETA 750A-B or ETA 9089) or a petition for an immigrant worker (Form I-140) has been filed on the alien's behalf.

H4 EAD Document Checklist for First-Time Applicant (or Renewal)

Once you know that you are eligible to file for H4 EAD, let us see what documents you would need to file I-765 by mail.

  • H4 EAD fees: The fee is $410. You can pay with a money order, personal check, or cashier’s check or by credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions. If you wanna pay by check, you must make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

  • Recent photographs: You would need 2 passport-size (2 inches by 2 inches) recent photographs. Mention the I-94 number on the back with a pencil.

I-765 Photo Requirement
I-765 Photo Requirement
  • Form I-765: The eligibility category will be c(26).

  • Legal status proof: You would need the most recent I-94 form or your I-797 approval notice.

  • Photo ID: Passport (front and back pages) or visa stamp copy or EAD copy (not for the first-timer, but in case you are renewing), or birth certificate with photo on it. Your DL or State ID will not work for this.

  • Relation to primary H1B holder: A copy of your marriage certificate in English.

  • H4 EAD eligibility: Copy of H1B spouse's I-797 approval notice for form I-140.

  • Form G-1145 (optional): This will help notify you via text or email. This is totally optional though.

  • Cover letter (optional): This is also optional but it will help an officer to understand your case better. You can refer to this for writing.

Even if you are applying for renewal or extension, the document checklist will remain the same.

File Form I-765 for First-Time Applicant

You can download the latest version of the I-765 form from the USCIS website. You can refer to this link. There is also documentation on I-765 instructions which is very simple to follow. The H4 EAD category code you need to use is c(26).

  1. Download and print the I-765 form from the link given above.

  2. Select reason for applying: Initial permission if you are first-timer or Renewal for extension or Replacement for lost cards.

  3. Fill in your personal information: If you have a single name, use FNU in the given name and your actual name in the Last name. Read more about it here. You can also apply for an SSN card if you don't have one. Just select "No" for 13.a. and then select "Yes" for Q14 & 15 and provide your father's and mother's names in Q16 & 17.

  4. Choose the eligibility category as c(26) on question 27.

  5. Provide your signature: Sign and date the form.

  6. Pay the filing fee: I always preferred to pay via check.

  7. Mail the completed form: Mail the completed form and supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS address, which will depend on your eligibility category.

  8. Wait for the USCIS decision. You will receive the SSN card via mail after EAD is approved.

  9. You can track the status here. You will also get electronic alerts if you have filed the G-1145 form.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for H4 EAD for the First Time

  1. If you send the wrong fee, USCIS will reject your application.

  2. If your photographs are not recent then our application will be rejected. Do not wear a white shirt/ top and the background should be off-white. My husband's application was once rejected as he was wearing a white t-shirt.

  3. Do not forget to sign and date the form before you mail it.

  4. While mailing the form, keep the check on top, then photograph, then form G-1145, and then I-765 and the rest of the supporting documents.

  5. Use a nice file folder like this: