Have you ever wondered if I do freelance work on an H4 visa? To learn about freelancing on a visa, H4 visa basics, work policies, and renewal, keep reading our in-depth guide.
Many immigrants come to the US to live their American dream, but confusions about visa processing often stand in the way of success.
While people with H1 visas are allowed to work and live in the US, their dependents get an H4 visa with limited benefits.
Since H4 visa holders cannot work in a physical workplace, they often resort to the freelance market. A common question arises then: Can H4 visa holders do freelancing?
Let’s walk you through the basics of an H4 visa, options to become a freelancer, and H4 visa restrictions.
Basics of H4 Visa
The H4 visa is a dependent visa, which means that you’re living in the US with someone who is authorized to work. For instance, if your spouse is working in the US on an H1 visa, you’d most probably have an H4 visa.
You can apply for the H4 visa from inside or outside the US.
A usual concern about the H4 visa is whether it allows the holders to work or not. Long story short, H4 visa holders are not authorized to work.
However, there are a few exceptions. As an H4 visa holder, you can work in the US if you get Employment Authorization. You can only apply and be eligible for it if your H1B-holding spouse:
- Has an approved I-140 (a petition for an alien worker to become a permanent resident of the US)
- Has their visa status extended for over six years under AC21 Act
This Act allows workers to seek permanent residency. They can stay and work in the US for more than six years if their application for the Green Card is pending.
But this was just about physical work. If you’re wondering: if you can do freelance work on an H4 visa, the answer is No.
Since H4 visa holders are not allowed to work physically, you won’t be authorized to do freelance work either.
Additionally, you cannot do any other work from home, for instance, providing a service or starting a small business.
You can, however, work for a non-profit organization.
The key requirement is not to be paid for anything you do. So, if you volunteer somewhere and are not getting paid for it, it’s completely legal.
How to Do Freelancing on H4 Visa?
As mentioned earlier, you can’t work on an H4 visa unless you have the EAD. Since 2015, many H4 visa holders have been authorized to work through the EAD program.
In 2019, the USCIS proposed to abolish this program, but the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia went against it.
Even now, the judgment is under review in a lower court.
However, you can still apply for the EAD and work in any industry sector, including the freelance market.
How to Apply for an EAD?
If you want to do freelance work or any other work in the US, you must fill out Form I-765 to apply for EAD.
Along with attaching your legal documents and photographs, you’d also have to pay a processing fee of $495.
Then comes the tricky part: filling out the form. Although the form is short, some questions might take you a while to answer.
Most importantly, a question on the form asks about your eligible category. Typically, most H4 visa holders belong to one of the following categories:
- C-9: Having a pending status application adjustment
- A-5: Living under asylum
- C-3C: Students training after completion of studies
- C-5: A J1 exchange visitor’s spouse
- A-12: Having temporary protection status
If you do not fall into one of these categories, you can read the instructions on the form to determine which group you belong to.
Whichever category you choose, you’ll have to provide proof for it.
For example, if you’re a student living in the US for post-educational training, you’ll have to provide evidence of your studentship at a US university.
If you’re applying while the adjustment in your application is pending, there is no need for proof of eligibility. The department will find your information itself.
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Fee for an EAD
Let’s break down the $495 fee mentioned above. The processing fee is $410, while the biometrics fee is $85. Remember that you only have to pay the biometrics fee if you request deferring action.
Depending on which category you fall in, you might not have to pay the fee at all.
For example, if you’re applying for a Green Card, you don’t have to pay the fee till receiving confirmation.
Make sure you check the instructions online and pay accordingly.
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How to Submit an EAD Form?
Take your time to fill in the form and ensure you’ve entered everything correctly.
After that, you have to send the form by postal mail. You can find the postal address for different forms on the website.
Before submitting, make multiple copies of your documents and all correspondence. If your application is successful, the USCIS will confirm it in writing through the mail.
So, when you’re applying for the EAD, make sure to give the correct address.
In the unfortunate event of your application being rejected, you’ll get an explanation from the USCIS. They’ll tell you why your application failed or if there are any missing documents. Keep the instructions into consideration when you’re applying the next time.
How to Renew an EAD?
If you’re already freelancing on a visa, you may know that EADs expire quickly. Typically, they last for up to a year.
The duration is kept short of ensuring that holders do not have an EAD for too long. A person can have an EAD even after they don’t own a valid visa anymore. The USCIS does not want this as it goes against the legal framework. Hence, the short EAD duration.
Before you apply for renewal, make sure that you’re eligible for the program.
You have to fill in the same I-765 form that you filled out initially to get the authorization. The processing and biometrics fee is also the same.
Apply for renewal before your EAD actually expires. You can apply for renewal 179 days before the expiry date.
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Can H4 Visa Holder do Freelancing With EAD?
Yes, once you’ve received the EAD, you can start freelancing on a visa from that day onward.
Since the job market is dense in the US, the number of freelance sites is also higher. Moreover, you’re likely to get freelancing jobs that require special skills, such as legal consultancy, if you know the US legal framework.
So, while you’re waiting for your EAD, learn about US laws and regulations. Besides, keep up with the news for any changes in workplace laws or new rulings.
Also, open a bank account, as it helps build credibility.
H4 visa holders can open a bank account in any US bank on their passports. You’ll get a debit card immediately.
Make sure to apply for a credit card, too, as it will be a witness to your credit history.
Depending on the state you’re living in, the initial deposit amount in the bank account will differ. It’s best to talk to the bank and learn about their specific requirements.
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Applying for a Social Security Number
Having a social security number in the US is quite beneficial to build your reputation.
If you have an H4 visa, you won’t be eligible for a social security number, as you can’t work.
However, with an EAD, you can apply for a social security number. You can do this via the EAD application or apply for the social security number at the related office.
Applying for a Tax Identification Number
Once you have your EAD, the options to become a freelancer are limitless. However, this does not free you from paying taxes.
Many people are under the false pretext that they don’t have to pay taxes because they don’t work for anyone.
In the US, you must pay 15.3% of your income in taxes if you’re self-employed. Just like any regular business, you can also write off expenses and reduce tax liabilities.
So, if your freelance work is going well and you’re earning a considerable amount, get a tax professional to manage your taxes.
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How to Do Freelancing in the US?
After receiving all your documents, you’re set to do freelance work without any legal restrictions. You can find work on popular freelance sites such as Fiverr, Guru, or Freelancer.
If you’re confused about which platform to try your luck on, take a quiz to determine the best freelance site for you.
Apart from these, search for gigs on local job boards on Facebook or specific ones in your state of residence.
Moreover, you can find work on Craigslist, as many people post gigs for one-time work there.
Initially, you can charge the same as other newcomers or use an hourly rate calculator to determine the market price for your gigs.
As your clientele grows, increase the rates gradually. If you’re consistent, you’ll soon be making bank.
Local, short-term clients might not ask you about your documents.
However, bigger companies that hire you for projects might request to see authorization for freelancing on a visa. So, keep your documents updated and renewed.
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Keeping in Touch With Other Freelancers
When you’re working as a freelancer, you don’t have any colleagues or work friends to help you if something goes wrong.
Thus, it’s important to stay in touch with the local community of freelancers.
If you have any queries, you can just drop them on online forums such as Fiverr forums and the Upwork community. Luckily, these platforms already have threads of immigrant-related work questions.
So, you’ll find plenty of help from these forums.
Most people there are either freelance legal advisors or immigrants who have managed to get their documents. Therefore, you can expect authentic answers and solid advice.
Quite interestingly, Reddit also has a group where people talk about work policies for immigrants and dependents in the US.
If there’s a change in the work policy or visa-acquiring process, you’ll learn about it sooner from these forums than the news.
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A common query that dependents have is: can H4 visa holders do freelancing? Most dependents are educated or have some sort of skill that they want to put to use.
An H4 visa alone doesn’t allow them to do that. In this guide, we discussed the importance of EAD for those who want to do freelance work in the US.
So to answer your question, ‘can I do freelance work on an H4 visa?’ yes, you can if you follow the steps correctly.
With proper documents, you can explore your options to become a freelancer and earn enough to help your spouse or manage personal expenses.
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