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How to Apply for H4 EAD First Time: Guide to the H4 EAD Application

Updated: Aug 22

Hello! If you're considering applying for an H4 EAD for the first time, I'm here to guide you through the H4 EAD application process. I'll cover H4 EAD eligibility, the H4 EAD document checklist, how to fill out the I-765 form, H4 EAD processing time, and highlight some common mistakes.

Additionally, I'll walk you through the process of renewal or extension, which should begin 180 days before your current EAD's expiry. You can expect the processing time to range from 3.5 to 10 months. Feel free to reach out with any questions – I'm dedicated to making your H4 EAD application process as smooth as possible!

H4 EAD Application Process for First-Time Applicants

Overall, I will explain them in detail, covering all the aspects of the H4 EAD process. If you think 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 April 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 USCIS 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. I would recommend consulting your employer/ attorney for this special 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 H1B visa holder with 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. There is no online H4 EAD application process yet, as mentioned earlier, as of now online is mainly for the F1 category only.

I-765 Photo Requirement
I-765 Photo Requirement
  • Form I-765: The eligibility category will be c(26) for H4 EAD.

  • 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 (EAD copy is 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 the photo ID requirement.

  • 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 above document checklist will remain the same.

Quick Tip for Renewal: If you have a USCIS notice from your last EAD, you would have received a notice with sample bar codes that can be used for extension, and that will actually help USCIS officers to speed up your application. Please include it if you still have it. If you don't have it, it's not mandatory to include it.

H4 EAD Check Sample

I am attaching a sample check so that you can verify it. The H4 EAD fee is $410 and your check should be payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security". Don't forget to date and sign it. At the back of the check (optional), you can mention the applicant's I-94 number with a light pencil.

H4 EAD Check Sample
H4 EAD Check Sample
File Form I-765 for First-Time Applicant

You can download the latest version of the I-765 form from the USCIS website. 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 a 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Choose the H4 EAD eligibility category as c(26) on question 27.

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

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

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

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

  10. You can track the status here.

  11. You will also get electronic alerts if you have filed (optional) the G-1145 form.

H4 EAD Processing Time

There are only 4 centers that process the c(26) category which is for H4 applicants and processing time might vary between 3 to 10 months depending upon which service center is processing your application.

However, you can check the current processing times on the USCIS website here. Current California service center processing time is around 6.5 months, this can change in the future.

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. Pay the exact fees needed.

  2. Biometrics fees would not be required for H4 EAD.

  3. Do not use a short abbreviation like "USCIS" while writing (payable to) the check. USCIS will reject it.

  4. I always preferred to personal check to make payments because that way you can also see if you are application is getting processed, just keep checking your bank balance and when $410 is deducted.

  5. 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.

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

  7. While mailing the application, first keep the check on top, second, photograph in a small envelope, then form G-1145 (optional), and then I-765 and the rest of the supporting documents.

  8. Use a nice file folder like this:


Can I file H4 EAD online?

No, currently H4 EAD can do only via mail and the online facility is not available for H4 applicants.

Can an H4 visa holder work in the USA without EAD?

No, you must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to request employment authorization as an H-4 dependent spouse. You must receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD/Form I-765) from USCIS before you may begin working.

How to track the status of your first-time H4 EAD application?

Once you receive the receipt number, you can track your application on the USCIS website. It's the same process as checking any other case on USCIS.

What is the current processing time for H4 EAD?

In general, USCIS provides an estimated processing time range for I-765 applications on its website, which is regularly updated. You can find processing time here.

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