Living to Tell the Tale from Hell: The H4 Visa Syndrome.

By  Ranjini

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Recently, I had chance encounters with two acquaintances – both well-educated, competent Indian women, their only shortcoming being that they have been cursed with dependant visas – after they re-surfaced with horror stories of having endured excruciating belligerence from their allegedly intelligent, educated husbands. Their anger, anguish and helplessness are perhaps inveterate by now. Both are emotionally drained out, physically worn out, and while one has managed to live with an aunt to come to terms with her pain, take up a course to hone her skills, and think of brighter future options; the other is still struggling to get a hold of her miserable, financially tottering life as a young mother of a three-year-old toddler, with divorce proceedings taking forever to wrap up. What’s worse, her dependent visa is about to expire; but the fairly relieving part of her story is that she has sought legal help and will hopefully find a way out of her more immediate visa turmoil.

The travails of H-4 visa holders are never-ending, and appalling. Turn a corner and chances are you’ll run into dependant “wives” of H-1 Bs, who, more often than not, well qualify for a six-figure salary job, but are forced to squander their time and skills away doing nothing. The most they could get up to is volunteer at a local not-for-profit organization, or, in cases where it is financially viable, take up new hobbies. While there are some who up the ante a notch and take up higher education courses, some are left feeling wretched and lonely in their struggle to find independence and financial stability.

For most of these dependants, even as the whim of the good life in this land of golden opportunities begins to wane, the complications and distressing ramifications that arise out of this dreadful situation are multifold. Especially between couples that are hastily married off, thanks to new age Internet-alliances. It takes a toll on the partners’ emotional sides, sapping them out and leaving little of their ability to think and act rationally, wisely and maturely. The result – suicidal tendencies; often brought about by domestic violence; a blight not limited to any one class or creed, rather touching even the finer, educated, intelligent groups.

According to statistics presented by an assortment of volunteers with South Asian help groups, and media persons, as many as two out of five South Asian women are impacted by domestic violence every year. There are many help groups for victims of abuse; also, a Victim’s Visa Program that aims to help these victims. But owing to a strange set of reasons, immigrant victims of domestic abuse refrain from seeking help or even trying to find a way out of their horrendous situations. One unfortunate basis that repeats itself with alarming regularity in such situations is a lack of proper understanding of the laws and rules; while fear that stems out of taxing mores follows as a close second.

For the uninformed, the Violence Against Women Act, passed by the Congress in 1994, protects victims of domestic abuse by authorizing spouses and children of US citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for a petition for their own lawful permanent residencies. Also, some of the abused immigrants are permitted to file for immigration relief without the abuser’s knowledge or assistance.

Shivali Shah, co-founder of KIRAN – a Domestic Violence and Crisis Services organization based in North Carolina, has launched an all-encompassing research project on H-1B, H-1C, and H-4 visa holders. The proposed “H Visa Survey” is set to record all information pertaining to the experiences of living the American life, while having been or being on any H visa. All former and current H visa holders are encouraged to participate in this survey, and it might just be the next best thing to actually lending a helping hand to a victim of abuse., a community of dependant visa holders, is aiming to raise awareness on the travails of H4 visa holders by, among other endeavors, seeking help and funds to make a documentary film on the topic.

Thus, a little research that was triggered by my unexpected trysts with two women contacts who are struggling to find their voice after a long spell of being abused and muted, has opened up many vistas to finding and helping provide relief and strength to battered young, South Asian women like them with ruinous fates. Perhaps, like the term “Awaz” connotes (a South Asian Network endeavor, aptly tag-lined “Voices against Violence”) it’s time to raise our voices to a decibel so intense that it shakes the putrefying hell out of domestic abuse.


H4 write ups



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Amrita Bakshi has some very insightful and interesting write ups on life on h4 visa holders….click on the link below to read what she has to say and suggest.  (Thanks ms. bakshi, your funny yet inspiring blog helped me get through yet another dull day…)


An article on h4 visa holders – from San Francisco Chronicle !

Here is an article from the on h4 visa holder…while the article is a little gloomy , it holds true for most h4 visa holders.
what I think is a tad different form the tone of this articles…though we should demand what is rightfully ours – like the Right to work…we can try and tone down our demands for sympathy. We are highly educated, modern women who have the capacity to carve out our destiny. All we are in the need of is an oppurtunity…though it is taking way too much time to knock on our door, rather than sitting by the door and waiting for it every second of our life….we can open the windows and let some fresh air in ! Lets do something worthwhile  which makes us better – as indiviuals and as human beings and also, enriches our lives and those of others ( our families and our society) around us !

Indian women isolated in Silicon Valley

BY Anastasia Ustinova, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Read artcile on the original webpage –

Reema Shahani, 26, who holds a master’s degree in human rights, fills her day looking for recipes online.

Varkha Chellani, 37, a former credit analyst, keeps herself busy taking care of two children.

And former computer programmer Gomathy Kannan, 25, is taking dancing classes and writing a blog.

Shahani, Chellani and Kannan are among the thousands of women who came to the United States on the coattails of their husbands’ H-1B visas, granted to highly skilled professionals to fill jobs at the software companies and technology labs of Silicon Valley. But under the conditions of their H-4 dependent visas, spouses are not allowed to work here. Often highly educated and skilled, they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of social and financial dependency on their husbands, while struggling to adjust to life in a new country.

The State Department issued more than 135,000 H-1B visas in 2006, together with about 74,000 H-4 visas for their spouses. A lot of the H-1B visas go to workers in Silicon Valley: The area’s companies employ about 35,000 H-1B holders, estimates the Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association. And the majority are workers from Asia, according to the Department of Homeland Security – nearly 45 percent of all H-1B petitions approved in fiscal year 2005 were for workers born in India.

In Silicon Valley, many of the Indian women’s stories are similar. Most were born into higher castes in India, graduated with college degrees in computer science or business, worked in fast-paced companies, had a support network of friends and family. Moving to the United States seemed like a great opportunity, but all too often there was little discussion about the terms of their immigration status. Now, while their husbands are climbing the career ladder, they stay at home alone, isolated.

“There is a high level of depression in that community because those women are not integrating into society by working, and it prolongs the homesickness,” said immigration lawyer Shivali Shah, who did a survey of 100 H-4 holders. “They usually arrive during their prime working years, and it is very demoralizing for them.”

Killing time
Reema Shahani swapped the turmoil of city life in Delhi for a quiet suburban apartment in Santa Clara.

While her husband has a thriving career in a giant high-tech company, Shahani spends her days browsing the Internet and watching the Food Network. When she arrived in 2006, she did not have a driver’s license and her world was reduced to the size of a two-bedroom apartment.

“It is really sad. You sit alone the whole day and don’t do anything,” Shahani said. “I would always tell my husband, ‘Why should I be here? It’s a complete waste of my time.’ “

After the first year, frustrated with the monotony of her new life, Shahani began volunteering at the Indian Community Center in Milpitas, where she met other women in the same situation.

Many women prefer the immigration forums and chat rooms on the Internet, where they can pour their hearts out anonymously. Malathy Jey, founder of, a networking site for Indian women based in Austin, Texas, estimates that her site receives about 2 million page views a month.

Jey, 32, who worked as an IT specialist for Ford Motor Co. in Chennai, India, before moving to Austin on an H-4 visa with her husband, said she came up with the idea for the Web site during long days spent at home looking for things to do. offers relationship advice and recipes, as well as the opportunity for women to share their frustrations with the immigration process.

“I got married to an H-1B visa holder, which put me in H-4 visa status – yes, that dreaded H-4,” wrote one of the users. “Being H-4, I can’t work or earn a single dollar and all I can do is stay at home and stare at the four walls.”

While couples can apply for permanent residency, or a green card, which would allow the dependent spouse to work, the process can take years, and Indian and Chinese immigrants face annual quotas set by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“I’ve gone through my ups and downs and was even regretting being here,” said Varkha Chellani, who has been waiting for seven years for a green card, while her friends achieve career success in India.

Potential benefit
Chellani, who brings her 2-year-old daughter Vidhi to weekly play dates at the community center, is interested in early childhood education and has been volunteering at the center developing classroom curriculum for the kids. She would like to go back to school, she said, but paying tuition while living on one income and supporting two kids is a challenge.

Volunteering is another common strategy for the women, who are afraid future employers are going to question gaps in their resumes, and many local nonprofit groups are taking notice, said John Power, executive director of the matching service, which works with agencies in San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

“They are individuals who have had a professional background and are looking for some proper ways to continue their careers,” Power said. “It’s very desirable to find people with such skills, and the potential benefit is huge.”

Some women, including Kannan, who sometimes had to stay in the office in Chennai until 3 a.m., see their H-4 status as an opportunity to take a break and do the things they never had time for, such as painting or dancing. Kannan, however, also volunteers as a computer specialist at the Indian Community Center once a week.

“It really helps me to do something useful,” Kannan said. Her husband agrees.

“He feels that I should be working with the technology. Otherwise I will be lagging behind.”

Skilled visa holders  135,000 approximate number of H-1B visas issued by the State Department in 2006

74,000 approximate number H-4 visas for spouses issued the same year

35,000 approximate number of H-1B workers in Silicon Valley area companies

E-mail Anastasia Ustinova at

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The i-94 confusion


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What is it : The I-94 form is an arrival and departure record card that is distributed to each participant on the airplane before landing in the U.S. The Immigration officials at the airport will stamp the form in which one part will be attached to the participant’s passport and the Immigration Department will retain the other portion. The stamp on the I-94 card indicates the entry date into the U.S. and the visa status. Also, the stamp specifically indicates the last day the participant is authorized to stay in the U.S. legally.

Is it important : VERY

My case : My husband’s passport was to expire in 3 months , so at the US port of entry, our I-94 was stamped to the validity date of the passport. His H1 visa and i-797 approval form was valid until next year. Since, I am on h4 visa, the date on my i-94 was the same. 

The confusion begans….: We got the passport renewed and got an appointment at with an immigration officer in Detroit.  The officer in Detroit told us ” YOU ARE GOOD…as long as your visa is valid and i-797 approval form you don’t need the i-94″ …he was very calm and cool about it.  But luckily, we were not assured.

Since, we were so close to Canada (5 minutes to the windsor tunnel)…we decided to take our chances and go to Canada to get a new , updated  i-94  stamp.  The officers in Canada were nice to us. They did not take our i-94 which worried us …but we were fine – as the US officer on the port of entry was supposed to take it and give us a new one.

Anyway, the US officer was extremely irritating and dumb. He asked for our marriage certificate – which we have never been asked for (we have been married for 8 years)  and we have travelled outside the US of A several time. Moreover, my husband’s name  is on my visa in my passport. He just wont budge…so we had to enter with our old i-94 ( it had not expired – it still had a few days on it). 

Next day we went to Port Huron (this time with our marriage certificate, our child’s birth certificate, utility bills and a few marriage photographs), yet another port of entry into Canada…( by this time, I got a little worried about entering Canada so many time – I didn’t have a canadian visa…felt a little stupid. But when we told Canadian authorities that we just came to get our i-94 stamping done, they were kind to us!!) Anyway, the US officer at port Huron was nice and seemed intelligent, he guided us to the office and we got a new and stamped i-94.  He did not ask for our marriage certificate  or any other document except for the expired passport ( we had that at windsor tunnel, too …).

Moral : Dont trust the immigration officer…I 94 is VERY important…carry all possible documents with you – you never know what they might ask for.


Volunteering on H4 visa


H-4 visa holders cannot work for financial remuneration. There are, however, no constrains on pursuing social work or volunteering for community service, provided you are not receiving a salary. They may volunteer only if the position in which they are interested has always been a volunteer position, and always will be. The  Department of Labor (DOL) does not allow a dependent to volunteer for a position and then begin to receive compensation for performing the same duties once a change of immigration status is approved. It is illegal to volunteer for a productive position.


The system of work authorizations was set up to ensure that Americans are given the opportunity to earn money. By offering to work in a job without pay that an American would be paid for, an h4 visa holder is not only taking away somebody’s job, but is also underbidding and driving down the wages of other people.On the other hand, volunteering for a true volunteer position, for instance as a translator in a hospital, as a museum guide, helping with community events, volunteering at your local community organizations, school chaperone, or similar positions that Americans would also do without pay, then, volunteering would be legal.


Helpful  sites  

H4 to F1 …convert or not to convert ?



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There are three sorts of student visas – . F-1, M, and J-1.

 1.     After a college or university has approved your application for a full time course/ program, they will send you a document called an I-20 form, which is the application form for  F-1 visa. 2.     The M visa is for students at technical schools. 3.     Exchange Visitor J-1: J-1 is for a short term consultation, training, research or teaching program. The organization sponsoring you will send an IAP-66 form, which is the application for J-1 visa.  

Is it necessary to switch H4 to F1 in order to study here?


·         No, it is not  obligatory to change your visa in order to study in US. You can legally study here on any visa status, as long as, you fulfill the conditions to get the admission.


·         a dependent visa holder cannot obtain any financial aid, and the one-year optional practical training, after completion of the course. You will be able to work on campus for some stipulated number hours on F1 visa.

 ·         On the other hand, if you study on H4/L2 status, then you will get the resident low fee benefit. Normally you automatically become the state resident, after completing 1 year of stay ( every college has a different set of rules regarding in-state fee classification – based on state residency. Being refused by one college does not necessarily mean that all colleges in the state will treat you as an out-of-state or international student. So, make sure you call them…also, check their website) But, if you plan to convert your visa status to F1, then you won’t get this benefit. You will be treated as a foreign student and thus will be charged heavy fee.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) simplified




What is ITIN?

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It is a nine-digit number, similar in format to the SSN. It always begins with the number 9. ITINs are issued only to people who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA). ITIN is for tax purposes only. It does not authorize work and cannot be used as an identification number or for any purpose outside the tax system.

Who needs ITIN?

If you must file a U.S. tax return or you are listed on a tax return as a spouse or a dependent and you are not eligible to obtain a valid SSN, you must apply for an ITIN.

Generally, all dependent (H-4 or L-2) visa holders can apply for an ITIN.

  • Non-resident alien filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for an SSN

  • U.S. resident alien (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for an SSN

  • Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien

  • Dependent or spouse of a non-resident alien visa holder

Both SSN and ITIN ?

By law, a person cannot have both an SSN and an ITIN. When completing tax return forms, you should enter the ITIN in the space for SSN. Including your ITIN on the tax return will ensure prompt processing and receipt of refund. You may need to use your ITIN number when opening a bank account.

Are ITINs valid for identification?

No. ITINs are not valid identification outside the tax system. Since ITINs are strictly for tax processing, IRS does not apply the same standards as agencies that provide genuine identity certification.
ITIN applicants are not required to apply in person, and IRS does not further validate the authenticity of identity documents. ITINs do not prove identity outside the tax system, and should not be offered or accepted as identification for non-tax purposes.

Are ITINs valid for work purposes?

No. ITINs are for federal income tax purposes only.

When to apply?

You should apply for your ITIN as soon as you are ready to file your federal income tax return, since you need to attach the return to your application. It is possible to apply for an ITIN any time during the year.

How to apply ?

The application process for ITIN has recently been revised. You now need to provide the following documents to apply for an ITIN:

  • W-7 Form

  • Attach a valid Federal Income Tax Return (unless you qualify for an exception – see page 3 of Form W-7)

  • Original or certified proof of identity. The IRS has revised it’s list of documents acceptable as proof of identity and foreign status. An original and valid passport is the only document acceptable as proof of both identity and foreign status. If you submit an original valid passport (or a notarized or certified copy of a valid passport), you do not need to submit any other documents from the list below

If you do not provide your passport, you must submit a combination of (at least 2 or more) current and valid documents from the list below. These documents (or their combination) should verify
a) Your identity, i.e., contain your name & photograph
b) Support your claim of foreign status

  • National identification card (must show photo, name, current address, date of birth and expiration date)

  • U.S. driver’s license

  • Civil birth certificate

  • Foreign driver’s license

  • US state identification card

  • Foreign voter’s registration card

  • US military identification card

  • Foreign military identification card

  • Visa

  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo identification

  • Medical records (dependents only)

  • School records (dependents and/or students only)



You can submit copies of original documents. Copies are not returned. These copies must either be – Certified by the issuing agency or official custodian of the original record OR Notarized by a US notary public

If you submit your original documents they will be returned. You need not provide a return envelope for this purpose. If your originals are not returned within 60 days call the IRS at the telephone assistance number. Keep a copy of your application for your records. To be on the safe side, mail your application by insured mail so that you receive a receipt. Avoid using originals if the copy can work.

Use the January 2007 revision of Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to apply. Attach a valid federal income tax return unless you qualify for an exception, and include your original or certified proof of identity documents.
Because you are filing your tax return as an attachment to your ITIN application, you should not mail your return to the address listed in the Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ instructions. Instead, send your return, Form W-7 and proof of identity documents to:

Internal Revenue Service
Austin Service Center
ITIN Operation
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342

You may also apply using the services of an IRS-authorized Acceptance Agent or visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in lieu of mailing your information to the IRS in Austin. TACs in the United States provide in-person help with ITIN applications on a walk-in or appointment basis. Applicants outside the United States should contact an overseas IRS office to find out if that office accepts Form W-7 applications. The IRS’s ITIN Unit in Austin issues all numbers by mail.

What are the ways to apply for an ITIN?

There are three ways to apply for ITIN:

  1. Personally: You can apply for ITIN in person. Carry completed forms and valid documents to any IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in the US

  2. By Mail: Mail Form W-7, your tax return (or other documents required by an exception), and the identification documentation to
    Internal Revenue Service
    Philadelphia Service Center
    ITIN Unit, PO Box 447
    Bensalem, PA 19020

  3. Through an Acceptance Agent:  An Acceptance Agent is an individual, business or organization (college, financial institution, accounting firm, etc.) authorized by IRS to assist individuals in obtaining ITINs. Certifying Acceptance Agents review applicants’ documentation, complete a certificate of accuracy, and forward the certificate and application to the IRS for processing. Some Acceptance Agents may charge a fee.

How and when will you receive your ITIN?

If you qualify for the ITIN and your application is complete, you will receive a letter from the IRS assigning your tax identification number, usually within 4 to 6 weeks. If you have not received any letter from the IRS in that time, you may call the IRS to check the status of your application at the IRS telephone assistance number: 1-800-829-1040.

Domestic abuse and H4 visa holders

Original article at –

borrowed from –

thanks to the writer (Chhavi Dublish and BBC)

US Asians domestic abuse woes

By Chhavi Dublish in New Jersey

The South Asian community in the United States is fast-growing and prosperous.

Counsellors from Manavi, a New Jersey-based organisation helping South Asian victims of domestic violence

Some 30 US groups help South Asian domestic violence victims

While its emergence as an important economic and political sector is lauded by many, the fact that this group is also experiencing an upsurge in cases of domestic violence against women is often ignored.

Many South Asian women have reported experiencing abuse.

Barriers of ethnicity, language and isolation from friends and family often prevent these women from being able to seek help and many of them accept it as a part of their life.

Silent suffering

The abuse can take many different forms – verbal, sexual, even severe physical assault.

Anita (not her real name), 21, came to the US from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in 1995 and says she was beaten every day by her husband.

I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three years with a husband who abused me every day

Anita, domestic violence victim

She started working but bore the violence at home silently.

After three years of quiet suffering, one day her supervisor at work noticed bruises on her arms and sent her to the police to file a report.

“By then I had three failed pregnancies, a battered body and three years with a husband who had physically, sexually and psychologically abused me every day,” Anita said.

The police were not able to help her much since it could not understand her specific needs and after another four years Anita finally sought help from Sakhi – an organisation for South Asian women based in New York.

Here Anita got the helping hand she was seeking as she was led through legal procedures and economic empowerment lessons.

Today Anita is pursuing a degree in New York and envisages a bright future for herself.

Visa issues

Soma Dixit from Manavi, a New Jersey-based women’s organisation, says most of these women are inherently limited by culture as a result of centuries of submissiveness, denial and passiveness.

The most distressing cases are of the women who want to get out of these relationships but are held back due to immigration issues.

Soma Dixit from Manavi

Soma Dixit says abuse often takes non-violent forms

The spouses of H-1 visa holders, who are given H-4 visas, have no right to employment; they do not have a social security number and no independent immigration status.

“H-4 visa holders are completely in the control of their spouses,” says Shivali Shah, an attorney offering legal counsel to distressed women.

“Often her husband will mislead her by saying that he has filed for her permanent residency card and women hoping for a green card will continue the relationship.”

Purvi Shah, executive director of Sakhi, says: “The H-4 status is particularly burdensome for survivors of violence because very few legal remedies exist to support women with this non-immigrant status.”


Soma Dixit says abuse experienced by immigrant populations need not be violent or sexual.

Extreme isolation – no phone calls allowed to friends and family, no access to mail boxes – a spouse refusing to provide money and threats of deportation, are typical forms of ill treatment.

Rubina came to the US from Bangladesh with big dreams only to discover her husband was having an affair

Alka, counsellor with Manavi

In such cases, it requires extreme courage for a woman to take the first step and seek counsel.

Many call intermittently, always hoping that things at home will improve.

“Rubina (not her real name) came to the US from Bangladesh with big dreams about settling into her new home, only to discover that her husband was having an affair and openly flaunted his infidelity,” said Alka, one of the counsellors with Manavi.

“Limited by immigration, Rubina could not work and called us. She sought counsel, but then she conceived and hoping that a child would soothe things, she stopped calling us,” Alka said.

Five years on she has called again, and does so intermittently.

Domestic violence in the South Asian community in the US is thought to be on the rise.

Some 30 organisations geared towards helping victims have sprung up in the past 15 years.

Handling up to 500 cases a year, they advise the women on their various options and provide legal and practical help.

Studying on H4 visa ?


gettin back to books 

A person with an H4 may seek a post secondary education by converting their status to an “F1” (full-time student) visa. Full-time means a minimum of twelve credits per semester in an institution recognized by the INS. Conversion to a different visa is not necessary is to attend a community colleges. These colleges only give you what is the equivalent of a Diploma, instead of a Degree, but they often the serve the purpose of giving you career oriented education.Since H4 visa holders are not allowed to earn money even on campus by taking up a job. If you want to be on scholarship, your status will change and you will be on F-1 visa as mentioned above.   Children on H4 visas do not need a separate visa to attend school.

You should know that studying in USA is a costly affair, so plan accordingly community colleges are economical when compared to the rest. If you are pursing online or distant education, look out for in-state universities as fee for residents is much less than people residing outside the state. At times, staying on h4 helps as, you can pay the instate fee ( not in Michigan, but some states like Texas categorise H4 visa holders as state residents), if you convert to F1 then you will have to pay more. 

To get assistantship or to take advantage of optional practical training, you have to change your status from H4 to F1 by filing change of status application with INS. It may take 6-9 months for approval. You can start attending school while your application is pending. But you can get assistantship only after F1 approval. When you travel abroad next time, you have to get the F1 VISA stamping. The time you spent on your F1 will NOT be counted against your 6 year clock (Eg: you can be in US for 8 years (3 years H4 + 2 years F1 + 3 years H1B)

Scholarships: there is some confusion if scholarships based on merit / grades are considered income for IT purposes, Talk to your spouse’s employer’s immigration attorney.


Education in USA …


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Educational terminology can be quite confusing in USA.  Also, the system and marking is quite different from the rest of the world.

Generally, it takes four years of undergraduate study to earn a Bachelors degree.The 4 year undergraduate program consists of:

·         1st Year is called Freshman Year.

·         2nd Year is called Sophomore Year.

 ·         3rd Year is called Junior Year.

 ·         4th Year is called Senior Year. Students in senior year are also called as “Upperclassmen”.

The first two years mostly cover general subjects. A junior year student must choose a “major” field of study. In some schools, students also choose a “minor” field. There is usually time for students to choose several other “elective” (extra) courses in other subjects. Each student is assigned a “faculty advisor”, who teaches their major subjects, and also helps them to select a particular program of study.An international student will also have an “International Student Advisor” who helps them to adjust to U.S. life, handles visa and other paperwork problems.

Graduate Study: It is what we in India call as postgraduate education. All master degrees are graduate degrees.

Masters Degree: This degree is usually required in fields such as Engineering, Library science, Business Administration or Social work.Mostly masters degree is a 2 year program, but some subjects like journalism, may need just one year.

A Doctorate degree (Ph.D.) usually takes five to seven years to complete. Unlike undergraduates, graduate students begin specialized study from the first day.

Professional/Vocational Training Programs: These are many specific courses/training programs for professional subjects. Some of them include Printing technology, Orthoptics, fashion and textile technology.

EducatioN in USA:

State College or University: These schools are supported and run by the State Government. Each U.S. state operates at least one state university, and several state colleges.

Private College or Universities: These schools are privately owned/operated institutes. Tuition fee is usually higher than the state government schools. Normally these colleges and universities are smaller in size.

Community Colleges: Community colleges are local i.e. a city or county colleges. They also conduct evening classes for students who work during the day. Normally, community colleges welcome international students. But few countries do not recognize degrees from such community colleges.

Professional Schools: These are professional schools to train students in professional fields such as Art, Music, Engineering, Business, etc. They can be a part of a university or may be a separate school. Some offer graduate programs as well.

Institute of Technology: These are technical schools which conduct atleast four years of study in the science and technology fields. Some of them offer graduate programs too.

Schools run by Church: Many U.S. colleges and universities were founded by religious groups and are run by local religious organizations. Nearly all these schools welcome students of all religions and belief, but may give preference to members of their own religious group. Traditionally, many church related schools insist all the students to take Bible courses and attend chapel services.

Academic year: The school calendar usually begins in August or September and continues through May or June. Most new and international students join the colleges during the Fall session, so as to adjust to the weather.The academic year at many schools is composed of two terms known as semesters. Some schools use a three term calendar known as the “trimester” system. Still others divide the year into four terms known as the “quarter” system, including a summer session which is optional.

Credits: Each course is considered to be worth a number of “credits” or “credit hours”. This number is roughly the same as the number of hours a student spends in a class for that course each week. A course is typically worth three to five credits. A full program at most schools is twelve or fifteen credit hours (four or five courses per term). International students are expected to enroll in a full program during each term.

Difference in Community College and regular four year College/University

Community colleges meet the educational and vocational needs of local communities. Usually they are run by a state government, by maintaining an “open door policy” with low tuition costs and few entrance requirements.Universities on the other hand are bigger educational centers which offer wide range of courses, and caters to a larger area. But due to the competition and a complicated admission process, it is difficult to get an admission here.

Advantages of a Community College:

Admission is easily available.
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), or in few places 16 years of prior education in english medium is required other then academic record. Many community colleges also offer English as a second language program for students whose TOEFL scores were low. They can help an international student to improve language skills, and get accustomed to the U.S. educational system.

Less tuition fee.
Tuition fee at community colleges are much less than any regular four year college or university.

Smaller in size.
Community colleges are often smaller than the universities. Classes are smaller, too. Teachers and advisors are able to provide personal attention to the students.

Supporting environment.
Introductory classes in community colleges are supportive rather than competitive. They are good for International students to get the hang of US style of study, and environment.

Instructors are able to give personal attention to the students. These teachers work in community colleges because they choose to teach instead of conducting research and publishing articles. Some instructors at universities are mostly interested in research.

Student Counseling.
Student Counseling is available in all the colleges. Their main objective is to help and guide students in selecting the best course for them. They help students with their personal problems too.

1.     GRE (Graduate Record Examinations). It is usually required for graduate programs. GRE includes a general test, subject test and writing assessment. (

2.     GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). This test contains verbal, quantitative, analytical, and essay sections. It is usually required for graduate programs in business and management. (

3.     TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). It measures the ability to understand, read and write english. For more information checkout TOEFL website (    

4. SAT: The SAT or Scholastic Assessment Test is a college admission pre-test. This exam has two parts, viz. SAT I (Reasoning Test) and SAT II (Subject Tests).




From H4 to H1 …a difficult journey !


 H4 visa holder may change to another type of Visa, as long as he/she qualifies and fulfils the requirements for the particular visa category.H1B” visa program is a temporary workers visa in “specialty occupations.” A specialty occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in the specific specialty (e.g., engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, computer sciences, medicine and health care, education, biotechnology, and business specialties, etc.). To qualify for the H-1B visa category, one must hold a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree, or the equivalent. The person must hold a U.S. equivalent 4 years bachelor’s or higher degree from an accredited college or university. If the foreign degree is 3 years bachelor’s degree , a 3 years of work experience in same or similar field /occupation can be considered to one year additional education.

There are several areas and categories which may qualify for specialty occupation like Engineers, Doctors/Physicians, Managers, Financial Manager, Analyst, Business Managers, Sales Managers, Art , entertainment, Lawyers, CPA, Architect, Health Care professionals, Technicians etc.

Getting a  H1-B visa

1. Find an employer in USA

2. Employer files the H1B petition for you with govt. authorities – Labour Department and USCIS.

3. Once the petition is approved, you are ready to work and live on H1 visa. Filing the petition involves hiring a lawyer and lots of paperwork.

Currently, H1B Total Quota is low at  65,000 for all the qualified people worldwide.
New Quota starts from April every year.
There is an additional quota for qualified people who have done there Master degree from USA. This quota is independent and additional to general  quota.

H4 visa and Bank account / Credit card / Debit card

H-4 visa holders can’t get a social security number. They cannot open a separate bank account or get a credit card without Social Security Number. They can share a joint account with their spouse and also, a joint credit card/debit card.

A social security number is required to run a credit check. As H-4 visa holders do not have a financial presence in the U.S., they don’t have a credit history.

(09.25.07) An important correction: H4 Visa holders can open a bank account individually -it has to be a checking and not savings.

Thanks for your input Kiah!

Questions asked in interview for H4 visa

H4 is a dependent visa so there isn’t much of questioning involved. All they have to make sure is that you are really married to the H1 visa holder and have no intention of seeking employment in USA. Be confident, make eye contact, be clear and loud enough. Keep your answers short and make sure greet them properly before and after the interview. Do not offer any informartion voluntarily, just answer what is asked.

1. When were you married?

Look into the interviewer’s eye and answer confidently, carry a few pictures of the wedding. If you have kids carry a few photographs of the entire family. It is important to remember the year.

2. Why are you going to USA?

To live with my husband/wife.

3.  What are your qualifications?

Answer as briefly as as possible, they are not interested …they are just building up to the next question.

4. Do you plan to work there?

NO (firmly) as I suppose the law does not permit me to work.

5. Where in the US do  you plan to stay?

Name of the place, or where my husband’s/ wife’s work takes him/her.

6. Do you plan to study?

Whatever you plans are…briefly.

7. If you didn’t take the H4 interview with your spouses’ H1B visa appointment?

8. Who filed the visa application and where did you file it?

the correct answer here would be – ‘ I filed it….’

9.  Who will financially support you in the US?

10. Which company does your spouse work for or Who is sponsoring your husband’s H1 ?

11. How much he is earning  or what is the annual income of your spouse?

Carry some pay stubs and recent bank statements.  


Applying for H4 visa

How to apply for H4 stamping?

While applying for H1B stamping, dependents of H1B holders can also apply for H4 VISA. Both VISAs will be issued for the same period of time. If the H1B holder is already in US, dependents can apply based on H1B holder’s VISA and H1B approval notice.

Documents for H4 Stamping

VISA application form. – (Form DS-156)

On January 11, 2002, the U.S. Secretary of State announced the introduction of a new form, Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-157). It was announced that all MALE nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must complete this new form, DS-157. The form must be submitted in addition to the usual Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-156), previously known as Form OF-156.The DS-156 application form may be obtained via autofax at 202-647-3000, document 6306. All male applicants 16-45 years of age must also submit form DS-157 (supplemental non-immigrant visa application.) Form DS-157


Two photographs 1 and 1/2 inches square (37×37 mm) for each applicant

VISA Copy of H1B holder (If H1B holder is already in USA)

I-94 Copy of H1B holder (If H1B holder is already in USA)

H1B approval notice – Copy

Employment letter from H1B holder’s current employer

Recent payslips from H1B holder’s current employer

Marriage certificate – Must (If spouse)

Marriage album (If spouse )

Birth certificate (If children)

Where should I submit my H4 visa application?
  If you are:
    In a lawful status in the U.S., submit the H4 visa application to a USCIS field office in the U.S.
    Outside the U.S., submit the visa application to the American Consulate where you reside

What is the processing time for H-4 visa?
  The processing time for H-4 visa is the same as the principal H visa applicant.

             Are there any travel restrictions on H-4 visa?
                No, there are no travel restrictions on H-4 visa. You may travel as many times as possible while you are on             H-4 status.


How long can I stay in the U.S. on H4 visa?
  Your H-4 status depends on the status of the principal H visa status. You lose your status once the H loses status.

social security number and driving license for h4


Social security numbers are not being issued to H4, L2 visa holders. They can’t get SSN just for banking, driving, etc. Some states require that the person must have the social security in order to get the driver’s license. Social Security Administration(SSA) has given a final rule saying that SSN can’t be issued for getting driver’s license. SSN should be used only for tracking person’s earning over life time and driver’s license has nothing to do with SSN. If you are staying such state, you just can’t get driver’s license.

Very few states like Iowa may still provide social security numbers but you cannot use it for work purposes, kindly check with authorities.

Addition Information from Sands (thanks!) : You can write to SSA requesting for a denial letter and present it at DMV!

H4 visa and the Social Security Number confusion …Solved.

What is a Social Security Number?

The Social Security System provides social and medical benefits for disabled and retired U.S. citizens. While working, employees and self-employed people pay into the system. Once they retire or become disabled they receive monthly benefits, provided that they fulfill certain requirements.

the card

For foreigners, the most important aspect of the Social Security program is the Social Security Number (SSN). The number is issued by the United States Department of Social Security, Social Security Administration. It is used to track earnings while one is working and to track received social security benefits. In order to get a job everybody needs a SSN to report to the employer. Any financial institution that pays interest to you will ask for your SSN.

The nine-digit Social Security number is divided into three parts. The first three digits of the SSN are the area number. For numbers assigned prior to 1973, it indicates the specific Social Security office from which the card was issued. Since 1973, certain blocks of numbers have been allocated to each State. The area number indicates the State the number holder showed as his/her mailing address on the application for a number. The State is derived from the ZIP code in the mailing address. The middle two digits are the group number and have no geographical significance. They just break the SSN into conveniently sized blocks for use in internal operations and order of issuance. The last four digits are the serial number representing a straight numerical series of numbers from 0001-9999 within each group.

Social Security Number’s are not reassigned when people die. Benefits may be payable to dependents and survivors or the SSN holder long after the SSN holder dies.

Dependent visas and SSN  Social security numbers are not being issued to H4, L2 visa holders. They can’t get SSN just for banking, driving, etc. Some states require that the person must have the social security in order to get the driver’s license. Social Security Administration(SSA) has given a final rule saying that SSN can’t be issued for getting driver’s license. SSN should be used only for tracking person’s earning over life time and driver’s license has nothing to do with SSN. If you are staying such state, you just can’t get driver’s license.Family members ( spouse, children) who hold F-2, H-4 or J-2 visa status are not eligible for a Social Security number.

Very few states like Iowa may still provide social security numbers but you cannot use it for work purposes, kindly check with authorities.

ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number)

Anyone who is not eligible for a SSN can apply for a taxpayer identification number using the form W-7. This number can be used for tax purposes, if claiming deductions, and at banks to open an account. To apply for an ITIN, you need to contact the IRS and ask for Form W-7 Documents needed are your passport, address proof and marriage certificate/birth certificate etc. 

H4 and Driving license…your first step towards freedom !


Every state in US, has it’s own rules and regulations for motor vehicles. Though mostly all basic rules are same, but do verify them by calling or visiting a local DMV office. How to get a driving license?

There are two steps for it.

  1. Written test.

  2. Road Test.

Written test is about traffic laws and signs. There are 36 questions on the test paper. A passing score is at least 31 correct answers. You have three chances to pass . If you failed 3rd time also, then you will have to pay the fee again and you will again get 3 more chances.

Go to the nearest DMV office, or visit DMV site for a booklet on traffic laws and signs (drivers handbook). Study it for the written test.

What is the procedure?

  • Visit a DMV office (make a prior appointment for a faster service).

  • Submit the completed application form, along with the fee.

  • any three of the following –

  1. proof of your date of birth.

  2. original passport.

  3. marriage certificate

  4. visa stamped on your passport

  5. any other id proof

If you have and international license from your country (India), it isn’t much of help. But if you have an Inidna driver’s license, you dont need to take a written test, you may take the road test rightaway.

Nowadays the Government has stopped giving SSN to the people on dependent visa. But they do give an official denial letter, specifying as to why they can’t issue you an SSN card. You can show this denial letter in order to get your driving license. It is accepted at the DMV.

  • Now you can appear for the written test.

Once you pass the written test, you have to give a eye test there itself. If you wear glasses/ contacts, please put them on for the test.  You will then be issued a temporary permit. If you have never been licensed before, you may use this permit to practice driving with an accompanying adult, who is 25 years of age or older, with a valid state license. It is illegal for you to drive alone.

Now you might take classes from some Instructor. Once you are comfortable in driving, you can fix up an appointment over the phone, for the road test.

Road test:

It’s a driving test, where a instructor will test your driving skills. Major criteria is to inspect, how carefully and safely you drive. It normally takes 10-15 min. It is a 100 points test, and minimum 70 is passing. You can get 3 attempts in case you are unable to pass. If you failed 3rd time also, then you have to reappear for the written test.
Upon passing the driving test, an interim license will be issued, which is valid for 60 days. In the mean time you will receive your original photo license via mail.


  • Read the drivers handbook carefully for rules and signs, for the written test.

  • Refer few old question papers, to get an idea of the test.

  • Once you passed the written test, take an appointment for your road test.

  • Take some driving classes from a good instructor, who can teach you the rules and precautions.

  • Here the instructor charges on hourly basis ( anything from $35 to $50), hence they try to prolong the class as much as possible. Don’t hesitate to ask, if you have any query for any signal rules, sign board, or anything else.

  • Ask few friends about the best instructor, before selecting one. Don’t just take the recommendation of your HR person for the instructor.

  • Instructor will provide his car for the road test which will have dual controls.

  • Getting a preferred appointment with DMV is difficult. You may go to any of the DMV offices, where ever you can get an appointment.

  • During your road test, don’t get nervous, or extra conscious. Most important is to follow the signs, speed limits, listen to the instructions, and drive safely. If you can’t understand any instruction, don’t hesitate to ask again. Don’t be in a hurry.

  • If you don’t get the license for a very long time, contact the DMV office.

  • Never ever drive without your driving license.


Note: Indian International Drivers Permit (IDP) works only in certain states. Please make sure it works for the state you are driving in.