Can F-2 Visa Holder Work in USA? A Comprehensive Guide

If you are a spouse or a child of an F-1 student visa holder, you may be eligible to apply for an F-2 visa to accompany them to the United States.

However, you may have some questions about what you can and cannot do with an F-2 visa, especially regarding working in the USA.

Image of F-2 VISA
F-2 VISA photo courtesy | Shutterstock

 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on the F-2 visa and its work restrictions, as well as some possible options for changing your status if you wish to pursue employment or education in the USA.

What is an F-2 visa?

An F-2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows the dependents of an F-1 student visa holder to enter and stay in the USA for the duration of the F-1 student’s program.

The dependents include the spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age of the F-1 student.

The F-2 visa is dependent on the F-1 visa, which means that if the F-1 student loses their status or leaves the USA, the F-2 visa holders must also leave or change their status.

Can an F-2 visa holder work in the USA?

The short answer is no.

The F-2 visa status does not allow you to work in the USA.

In other words, you and your family must be able to sustain yourself with your own funds, and you cannot seek employment while in the country. 

If you still wish to engage in a part- or full-time job in the USA, you must apply to change your immigrant status.

The immigration regulation on F-2 employment is rather clear: “The F-2 spouse and children of an F-1 student may not accept employment.” 

Therefore, the overarching guideline for F2 dependent is not to work while they reside in the United States as an F-2 visa holder to avoid violating their nonimmigrant status.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. 

For example,

F-2 visa holders may engage in unpaid voluntary work as long as there is no compensation of any kind attached to it and the job is usually done by volunteers

Additionally, some F-2 visa holders may be eligible to apply for a work permit under certain humanitarian circumstances, such as severe economic hardship.

These cases are rare and require approval from USCIS.

Can an F-2 visa holder study in the USA?

The answer depends on the level and type of study.

The immigration regulations have different rules for different levels of study. 

For example, F-2 children may attend K-12 (Kindergarten to the 12th grade) full time, per the compulsory education requirements.

However, for post-secondary/vocational study, it is important to discern what type of classes F-2 holders would like to take.

Based on the class type, classes can be categorized into two:

  1. classes that are avocational or recreational in nature.
  2. other classes that can be counted toward a degree.

Here, “avocational or recreational” can be interpreted as something that is to pursue a hobby.

English as Second Language courses (ESL), Zoomba, or choir classes can be great examples.

 F-2 dependents can take these “avocational or recreational” classes “up to and including on a full-time basis.”

However, if an F-2 dependent wants to take classes that can be counted toward a degree or certificate program, they must apply for and obtain a change of status to:

  1. F-1.
  2. M-1.
  3. J-1.

This means that they cannot enroll in such classes while maintaining their F-2 status.

They must first obtain approval from USCIS to change their status and then enroll in an approved school as a full-time student.

How can an F-2 visa holder change their status?

If an F-2 visa holder wants to work or study full-time in the USA, they must change their status to another nonimmigrant category that allows them to do so.

There are several options available depending on their qualifications and goals. Some of the most common ones are:

F-1 

This is for students who want to pursue academic or vocational studies at an approved school in the USA.

They must have a valid Form I-20 from the school and prove that they have sufficient funds and academic ability to complete their program.

M-1 

This is for students who want to pursue vocational or nonacademic studies at an approved school in the USA.

They must have a valid Form I-20 from the school and prove that they have sufficient funds and vocational ability to complete their program.

J-1 

This is for exchange visitors who want to participate in a cultural exchange program sponsored by a designated organization in the USA.

They must have a valid Form DS-2019 from the sponsor and meet the specific requirements of their program category.

H-1B 

This is for workers who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specialty occupation that requires theoretical or practical application of specialized knowledge.

They must have a job offer from a U.S. employer who has filed a petition on their behalf with USCIS and obtained a labor certification from the Department of Labor.

L-1 

This is for workers who have been employed by a foreign company for at least one year in the past three years and are transferred to a:

  1. U.S. branch.
  2. subsidiary.
  3. affiliate of the same company.
  4. They must have specialized knowledge or managerial or executive skills that are essential to the U.S. operation of the company.

O-1 

This is for workers who have extraordinary ability or achievement in the fields of science, art, education, business, or athletics.

They must have a job offer from a U.S. employer or agent who has filed a petition on their behalf with USCIS and obtained an advisory opinion from a peer group or labor organization.

 

To change their status, F-2 visa holders must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with USCIS and pay the required fee.

They must also submit evidence of their eligibility for the new status, such as Form I-20, Form DS-2019, Form I-129, Form I-797, etc.

They must also maintain their F-2 status until their change of status application is approved.

Conclusion

In summary, F-2 visa holders are not allowed to work in the USA unless they obtain a work permit under exceptional circumstances.

They can only study part-time or full-time in avocational or recreational classes.

If they want to study full-time in degree or certificate programs or work in the USA, they must change their status to another nonimmigrant category that allows them to do so.

Changing status requires filing an application with USCIS and meeting the specific requirements of the new category.

F-2 visa holders should consult with an immigration attorney before changing their status to avoid any complications or delays.

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