Navigating Life on an F2 Visa: The Call for Change

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Being a spouse of an F2 visa holder can be challenging and frustrating.

F2 visa holders are the dependents of F1 visa holders, who are international students in the United States.

While F1 visa holders can work on campus or apply for optional practical training (OPT) after graduation, F2 visa holders are not allowed to work at all.

This means they have to depend on their spouses for financial support, and they cannot pursue their career goals or interests.

Many spouses of F2 visa holders feel stressed and depressed because of this situation.

They feel isolated, bored, and unfulfilled.

They also face difficulties in adjusting to a new culture, language, and environment.

Some of them have to give up their own education or professional aspirations to follow their spouses to the United States.

Others have to deal with the uncertainty of their future, as they do not know how long they will stay in the United States or what will happen after their spouses finish their studies.

To understand their experiences and perspectives, I interviewed several spouses of F2 visa holders.

In this blog post, I will share some of their stories and insights.

I will also discuss why I think that spouses of F2 visa holders should have the right to work part-time in the United States, and how that would benefit not only them, but also their families, communities, and society.

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Living on an F2 Visa

Question 1: How long have you been living in the United States with an F2 visa?

In Zhuldyz's Case

I came to Boulder from Moscow in the fall of 2018, stayed here for 6 months, then went back to Moscow for my Ph.D. defense, and then came again in December 2019, right before the pandemic.

In Graciela's Case

2 years, I arrived in July 2021, from Chile.

Challenges and Difficulties

Question 2: What are the main challenges or difficulties that you face as an F2 visa holder?

In Zhuldyz's Case

Of course, the main challenge is not being able to work.

That’s the biggest problem I’ve been struggling with all these 5 years.

I used to work in Moscow even when I was in college but here, I haven’t worked a day.

I have a son now and he keeps me busy, but I still want to be able to provide for my family.

My husband is working part-time and he’s a PhD student, so we have only one income for the family of 3. 

In Graciela's Case

There are multiple challenges related to not being able to work.

First, since I cannot work, I cannot develop my professional skills, and I “lose” these years of experience and development.

Also, I cannot help economically.

What my husband makes as a Ph.D. student is barely enough to live in Boulder, considering that we have to pay for my monthly expenses, such as health insurance ($300), and food.

Another challenge of not being able to work is that I cannot put my English into practice in a professional setting.

Also, since I cannot afford an English course (because I don’t work) I cannot develop my English as much as I would like.

Coping with Stress and Frustration

Question 3: How do you cope with the stress or frustration of not being able to work or pursue your own goals?

In Zhuldyz's Case

I don’t have good advice for that. I’ve been in emotional swings ever since I came here.

At this point I can’t wait to move from here somewhere I can work and fulfill my plans and dreams.

In Graciela's Case

It is very frustrating and sad not being able to work.

I try to make friends since many people are in the same position as me.

However, there is no real way to cope with this stress and frustration.

Impact on Relationships

Question 4: How does your F2 visa status affect your relationship with your spouse and other people?

In Zhuldyz's Case

That’s a very good question.

My husband and I spent many hours discussing our options and future plans.

He never wanted me to work here, and he hasn’t worked anywhere himself.

We don’t want to put our lives here at risk cause if we’re deported back to Russia, we’ll face even bigger problems that men in Russia have to deal with every day.

To this day this topic is affecting our relationships and become a matter of dispute in our family.

In Graciela's Case

Many of my friends who are married to American people or who can work, make plans that require money.

Since I have an F2 visa, and we cannot generate more money than I already make, I cannot make plans that normal people do, such as going to restaurants, going to the cinema, going shopping, going skiing, doing sports, and many others.

Life with my husband is harder, we cannot afford to live the life normal people do here.

We are using our savings to try to live a more normal life.

Benefits and Advantages

Question 5: What are some of the benefits or advantages of having an F2 visa?

In Zhuldyz's Case

I can’t think of one.

But I’m glad we moved to the US five years ago, we’ve met friends here and got a lot of support from the community.

In Graciela's Case

Only being able to stay legally in the US.

Maintaining Identity and Self-Worth

Question 6: How do you maintain your sense of identity and self-worth as an F2 visa holder?

In Zhuldyz's Case

I started volunteering last year, first at Boulder Film and Art festivals, then I became a tutor for Russian-learning students at CU Boulder, Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures.

That helps me stay in touch with academia and my identity as a researcher and scientist.

In Graciela's Case

It is hard because we are just a companion of the F1 visa. As an F2 visa holder, our skills and capabilities don’t matter.

The only way to maintain a sense of identity is to try to do something through volunteering. 

Resources and Support

Question 7: What are some of the resources or support systems that you use or need as an F2 visa holder?

In Zhuldyz's Case

As a student, my husband gets free bus rides, medical insurance, and access to the CU food bank.

I, on the other hand, have to cover my basic needs myself.

I started getting more support when I got pregnant, but I don’t think there are any specific resources for F2 visa holders.

In Graciela's Case

I try to save on groceries by going to some free food events, such as the mobile buff pantry from CU Boulder.

I try to get everything that is on sale as grocery stores and more.

Also, since we are not citizens, we cannot opt for programs that are exclusive to citizens, such as reduced healthcare. (We have to pay the full healthcare premium)

Hopes and Plans for the Future

Question 8: What are your hopes or plans for the future as an F2 visa holder?

In Zhuldyz's Case

I think I can speak for many people with an F2 visa when I say that we need to have the same rights as our spouses – free medical insurance, free bus tickets, and access to the CU food bank.

It seems strange that one of the main problems everywhere over the last few years is understaffed places, but I know so many people who will be happy to work and capable of it.

Instead, we’re stuck at home with very limited options.

I hope that this will change and that spouses of students will gain more freedom.

In Graciela's Case

I hope that in the future, work permits will be available for F2 visa holders, at least for part-time jobs.

Also, since we are coming as companions to F1 visa holders, hopefully, we can get some discounts on studies.

Finally, hopefully, there will be discounted healthcare opportunities for F2 visa holders. 

A solution would be that people doing a PhD (which usually takes more than 4+ years), could get a visa different than the F1, therefore spouses don’t get the F2.

And that visa could allow spouses to get a work permit.

Allowing F2 Visa Holders to Work Part-Time in the US

In this section, I will share my perspective on why F2 visa holders, who are the spouses of F1 visa holders, should be allowed to work part-time in the US.

I will explain how this would benefit not only the F2 visa holders themselves, but also their families, communities, and society.

Financial Benefits for F1 Families

First of all, many families of F1 holders struggle financially due to the high cost of living in the US.

Allowing their spouses to work part-time can increase their income and afford a better quality of life.

They can also save more money for their future plans, such as pursuing higher education or starting a business.

Psychological Benefits for F2 Spouses

Secondly, many F2 visa holders feel frustrated and isolated by not being able to work in the US.

They have to depend on their partners, who are often busy with their studies or research.

They can maintain their identity and self-esteem by allowing them to work part-time.

They can also develop new skills and network with other people who share their interests and goals.

Social Benefits for the US

Thirdly, many F2 visa holders can contribute positively to the local economy and society by working part-time.

They can fill the gap in the labor market, especially in sectors that face a shortage of workers, such as retail, hospitality, or health care.

They can also bring diversity and cultural exchange to their workplaces and communities.

They can enrich the social fabric of the US by sharing their knowledge, experiences, and values.

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