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The fact that H4 visa holders cannot work in the US is not only unfair, I think it borders on human rights violation. For a developed country like the US, full of immigrants, such a restriction is unimaginable. I would equate it to putting someone in prison – mentally. We hear about green card process delays, CIR bill, Health care reform bill, etc. but few talk about the plight of H4 visa holders – spouses of H1 visa holders that cannot work in the US at all. Even if they are the smartest bulb in the world. Even if it were a doctor who could save someone’s life or an inventor who could give America the next amazing invention. Imagine you had this AMAZING idea or you finally found your life’s calling but you were on the H4 visa. What would you do? I am the entrepreneurial type and I know that if I were in such a situation, I would almost go mad. I think I’d leave the country. But for many, that’s not an option.

I wrote about the Top 10 issues faced by immigrants in the US earlier. The H4 work authorization issue was #3. All the top 3 are probably worthy of being #1 in their own accord.

So, given such a mind-numbing restriction and the fact that you might have to live in such a handicap for years, what are your options? Legally, you can’t work at all. But there are gray areas. On EndlessWait.com, we care a lot about ethics and would NEVER suggest something that’s in violation of the law in any way. But those that have experienced what H4 visa holders go through will agree that finding acceptable workarounds is their only choice. So here you go.

While you are on H4, there are some things you can do:

1. Get Educated: This is the safest option. H4 visa holders can go to school but after you graduate, you can’t really work unless you transition your visa to a H1-B visa, which is an option. Most take this route. But there are many that either don’t want further schooling, can’t afford it, or already have advanced degrees from their foreign countries.

2. Work on something that you can release after you get your work authorization. For example, write a book that you can publish after you get the green card of some work authorization. Or you can release that through a publisher in your home country. Another idea is to plan for a business that you will start when you do get work authorization. For instance, you can try various recipes at home and take classes to become a chef. Once you get your work authorization, you can open your own little restaurant & then with all these years of research you have put into it, you’re much more likely to succeed than the hundreds of restaurants that open up without much of a plan or a well thought out menu.

3. Invest in stocks: You are allowed to invest in businesses, just not work for them. As long as you are not day trading (meaning you make more than 5 trades per week), you are ok. There are several other things you can trade in such as mutual funds (more passive but also less control and more fees involved), forex, Etc. but stocks are the easiest place to start. If you have $25k to start an acocunt with, you could use Zecco.com – they offer free trades at that level.  You don’t have to invest all $25k into stocks, just place that amount into your account and you get free trades. Also, you can PRACTICE investing in stocks at http://www.zeccozimulator.com and several other similar sites on the web. These sites give you fake money to test your trading strategies with. If you are new to trading stocks, I highly recommend working with these for at least a month before trading in real money.

4. Peer to Peer Lending: You can lend money to other fellow Americans at LendingClub.com or Prosper.com. This new trend in Finance is called Peer to Peer investing and is a rage among new age investors. It’s been proven to work. The tough part with these is to spend time analyzing loan applicants and making sure you lend to the right people that do repay your loan with interest as you’d expect. The trick is to lend small amounts of money ($100 or so) to a large number of loans. These sites allow hundreds of people to pool their money together to satisfy a loan so your portion of risk is limited. It’s a great concept and the key to success in there is TIME. Most people don’t have that but you guys on H4 to. Capitalize on it. Between these 2 sites, I think LendingClub has the edge as of this post but that’s a personal opinion. You can create accounts with both for free.

5. Invest in Businesses (be a small-time venture capitalist): This may not sound like the typical thing most people do but it’s a very real opportunity out there. You could analyze business opportunities that are out there and when you find a good one, acquire it (fully or in part) and take a passive ownership interest in the business where you invest money into it but don’t work. It’s like investing in stocks, but only here you invest directly into a small business. The reason this works better for some is because you are more in control of what you are placing your money on. The hard part often times is the TIME that it takes to evaluate and find the right business to invest into. Of course, you need the money to invest but there’s ways to raise that if you feel confident that a business is worth it. There are businesses out there looking for investors for as little as $1000 investment.

You can look at businesses that are up for sale at http://bizbuysell.com, http://www.businessesforsale.com, Etc. These sites have forums where people post business ideas and ask for venture investment all the time.

The gray area here is that you can’t work for the business!! You can spend all the time in the world browsing the Internet finding the right business to invest in. But once you acquire it or sign a deal with them, you need to step back and let your active partner do ALL the work. It’s not easy, but doable if you are careful.

5. Volunteer: This one is gray area. The law is not clear (as far as I know and I am NOT a lawyer), about whether you can work without pay while on H4. What is work without pay really? So if you saw someone dying on the street, is helping them “working”? If that’s not working, then why is any other form of voluneteering any different. Work for a friend or family member for free or in exchange for compensation in some form other than money. Perhaps they could buy you a cruise trip, Etc. Again, this is gray area but oh well, I would do it if I had to.

Hope this helps some of you. It doesn’t erase the frustrating position the law puts you in. But we’ve all got to work with the constraints life throws at us. Some of us are luckier than others. You made the choice to come to the US. Make the best of the choices you do have…

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