Bringing Family Members to the U.S.


Having your dependent family join you in the US

It can be exciting to think about having your spouse and/or minor children join you in the United States while you are studying at Case Western Reserve University.

Knowing your family will be with you may allow you to feel a sense of security and peace of mind. You may believe that you will be better able to concentrate on your studies if your family is physically present to support you. This is often true, but sometimes it’s not. There are many things that you must consider—not just the positive impacts—before you make this important decision.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the overall cost of living in the United States is very high. When an emergency occurs, it can be financially devastating. Therefore, you must consider whether you can afford the extra time commitment and financial expense you will have to make so that your family's presence in the United States will be a comfort and not a burden.

Financial constraints and cultural pressures may affect the marital relationship of our students. Differing cultural values and expectations can create emotional, physical, and legal problems, especially when an unforeseen crisis occurs.

Considerations when bringing family to the United States

The following information is designed to help you and your family decide whether or not you should be together in the United States. It describes some of the major obstacles that have been observed as contributing to adjustment problems of international students, their spouses and families.

It is important that you and your spouse be aware of these issues. We hope you will discuss the information together so you are equipped to make this very important decision in your life.

In this section, we provide information on variety of factors for your consideration.

Cost of living for families

Before a visa can be issued for your spouse and/or children to enter the United States as your dependents, you are required to show proof of sufficient financial support. This funding is meant to demonstrate your ability to financial support them so they do not become dependent on the U.S. government for subsistence.

Having adequate funds to support yourself and your family is very important. If you or a member of your family accepts public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, federally subsidized housing, or free public school meals for children from a U.S., state, or local public service agency, you risk jeopardizing your nonimmigrant status and may possibly be denied future entry into the United States.

International Student Services estimates the following as dependents’ annual minimum costs, based on Federal Poverty Guidelines:

  • Spouse: $6,000
  • Children: $4,000 

Health insurance

Medical care in the United States is excellent but extremely expensive! Not seeking medical attention when necessary can be very dangerous to you and your family's health; therefore, medical insurance is a must. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as "cheap" medical insurance. The saying "You get what you pay for" applies to every insurance policy. It’s very important to purchase comprehensive medical insurance.

CWRU requires its international students to have proper medical insurance and provides coverage through the university’s student medical plan, which is an excellent source of coverage and relatively inexpensive for the comprehensive benefits provided. Your spouse and children are not eligible for this student rate, but a dependent medical plan is offered. Visit the Medical Resources page on the International Affairs website for more information.


Knowing where you will live while attending Case Western Reserve University is essential to your planning process. With options for undergraduate students, graduate students, and families, we can provide you the resources to help you secure your living arrangements. Visit the Housing page on the International Affairs website for more information.

Food and clothing

Your food and clothing costs will be higher if you are living with family members.

A variety of clothing will be necessary to accommodate the seasonal changes of weather in Cleveland. Temperatures range from very cold during the winter months to extremely warm in the summer. January, with a mean temperature of 23° F (−5° C), is the coldest month, but it’s not uncommon for snow to fall as early as October and as late as April. July is the warmest month, with a mean temperature of 81° F (27.2° C), but it can feel much warmer due to high humidity levels.

Childcare and school

Under no circumstances should young children be left alone at home unsupervised; it is against the law. If you have children under the age of 5, you may have to pay for qualified daycare or babysitting. If your children are of school age (5 or older), you will be required by law to enroll them in an appropriate public or private school.

Public school districts are determined by your place of residence; therefore, you are encouraged to secure your housing before having your children join you in the United States. The initial cultural adjustment to the United States will be difficult enough without the added stress of adapting to a new school each time a change occurs in your housing needs.

The availability of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction in the school district may be an important consideration for you when deciding on a place to live.

Loneliness and homesickness

Family members will require your time and attention, which means you will need to balance those demands with your academic work.

For some spouses who come to the United States, the English language poses a challenge, as they may not be as fluent in English as the principal F-1 or J-1 visa holder. He/she may face great frustration and difficulty communicating with others while completing simple tasks (such as shopping) on a daily basis without your assistance. This can lead to spouses feeling very lonely and isolated.

Some spouses may have left successful careers in their home country to be supportive of your studies. The limitations of the dependent spouse’s visa status can also cause frustration for them. Transitioning from a working person’s routine to one that may no longer include employment can be difficult and also contribute to a sense of loneliness and isolation.

Work authorization for dependents

The high cost of living in the United States often requires both spouses to work, however, employment for a dependent spouse may not be an available option.

F-2 dependents are not eligible for employment under any circumstances.

J-2 dependent spouses may apply for work authorization only under specific immigration guidelines:

  • You must hold valid J-2 status, and the Exchange Visitor must hold valid J-1 status, as shown on the Exchange Visitor's Form DS-2019 and your Forms I-94.

  • Your income may not be used to support the J-1 under any circumstances.

  • You may work only after you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Validity dates will be printed on the EAD.

  • You may work part-time or full-time, at any job, for any employer (except that you may not practice medicine, even if you have a license). There is no legal limit to the amount that you may earn.

USCIS can authorize J-2 employment in one year intervals for as long as the J-1 Exchange Visitor has permission to stay OR for four years, whichever is shorter.

If your permission to stay in the U.S. expires, so will your EAD. A VISA advisor can explain how to extend permission to stay for the J-1 and all J-2 dependents, and will know whether you may apply for a new EAD with the application for extension, or after it has been approved. A pending application for extension of stay, or for a new EAD, does not authorize you to continue working.

Applications for J-2 work authorization are authorized by USCIS. Copies of several items must accompany your application to USCIS. Visit and/or contact the VISA Office for more information. 

It takes 12 or more weeks for the EAD to be processed and mailed back to you. You may not begin work until you receive the EAD.

When you’ve secured a job, you’ll need to complete specific paperwork with your employer to prove that you’re legally permitted to work and to comply with U.S. labor and tax regulations. You’ll need to obtain (if you don’t have one already) and provide a Social Security Number to the employer. To apply for a Social Security Number, bring the following to a local Social Security Administration office:

  • Valid passport

  • I-94

  • Valid DS-2019 for you and your J- spouse

  • Valid EAD 

  • Letter of employment

All individuals in the U.S. who receive income must file a U.S. tax return, even if no taxes are withheld from the income because of a tax treaty exemption between the U.S. and the country of tax residence for the international visitor. For more information, please visit the IRS website

Dependent Visa Status

If you and your family decide that having your family with you in the United States is best, the VISA Office can guide you through the process for family members to obtain dependent visas.

Family members may choose to either travel with you to Cleveland or join you later. Family members who will travel with you to CWRU will be provided the appropriate dependent I-20 or DS-2019 so that they can apply for the appropriate F-2 or J-2 visa in your home country. Upon your admission, the VISA Office will request supplementary information from you to process your dependents' documents.

If your family members will be joining you later, you’ll need to complete and submit a Request for a new I-20 or DS-2019 along with financial documentation showing that you can support your family members financially. The financial documents should cover your expenses as well as your dependents' expenses: $6,000 in extra living expenses for a spouse and $4,000 per child. This documentation must be less than six months old.

Upon receiving your new I-20s or DS-2019s—one for you and one for each dependent—provide your dependents with theirs and a copy of yours. They will need to take these documents to a local consular office and apply for their dependent visa. 

When your family arrives in Cleveland, either with you or later on, please provide their passports to the VISA Office so we can make copies for your student file. And bring your family by the office, too—we’d love to meet them!

Inviting Family Members to Visit the U.S.

During your time as a student at CWRU, you may want to invite family members to visit you. If a visa is required to visit the United States for a short-term visit (see for a list of countries that are eligible for a visa waiver), visitors should apply for a B-2 visa at a U.S. consular post in their home country. To prepare for the application and interview process, the VISA Office suggests that you:

  • Advise family members to visit the website of the consular office where they will apply for their visitor visa to learn about requirements specific to their process.
  • Write a letter of invitation, in English, to your family members. The letter should include the purpose of the visit (for example, to celebrate the holiday season, to attend commencement ceremonies, etc.); details about the length of the visit (usually less than three months); and whether you will provide financial support while they are here. Graduate Students receiving stipends may want to include a departmental funding letter to demonstrate their ability to financially support visiting family members. Also, be sure to emphasize that your invitation is for a temporary visit and demonstrate your family members' intentions to return home after the visit.
  • Include Enrollment Verification from the University Registrar's Office to confirm your student status.
  • Provide details about Commencement if your family members are visiting to attend the ceremonies.

These suggestions may improve your family members' chances of obtaining a visa, but there is no guarantee that a visa will be issued. Visitor visas are issued to individuals who are able to prove that they have no intention of remaining in the U.S. permanently.

Please note that VISA Office staff are unable to write letters of invitation to your family members, but if you have other questions, please email us at or stop by during regular business hours.