A "Work Permit," also known as an "Employment Authorization Document" or "EAD," is an official document from the U.S. government that allows immigrants to work in the United States. You do not need to be a permanent resident to get a Work Permit, but you need to have an immigrant or non-immigrant visa that allows you to live and work in the U.S. Deferred Action recipients can also get Work Permits. It costs $485 to apply for a Work Permit. Some applicants do not have to pay this fee. It takes an average of 5-7 months to get a Work Permit after you apply. This article explains everything you need to know about U.S. Work Permits.
ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your Work Permit application with our free online tool. Click the green "Get Started" button above or read on to learn more.
What is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
Immigrants living in the United States, and foreign nationals who want to come to the United States, cannot work unless they receive permission from the United States government. That permission comes in the form of an Employment Authorization Documents (EAD). EAD's are more commonly known as "Work Permits." Work Permits are photo identification cards issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and they look a lot like a driver's license.
What is the difference between a Work Permit and a Work Visa?
Many people confuse Employment Authorization Documents (Work Permits) and Work Visas, so if you're not sure of the difference, you're not alone.
A Work Visa allows you to live in the U.S. and work for a specific employer. That employer applies for the visa for you, and the visa will be valid for as long as you continue working for that employer. However, you may only work for that employer while in the U.S. If you leave that employer, you will not be able to work for anyone else until you get another immigration status.
Employment Authorization Documents (Work Permits) are not tied to a specific employer. Once you have a Work Permit, you can work for any employer in the U.S. You will need to renew your Work Permit every year, though, and you will only be able to renew if you have an immigration status that allows you to keep working.
U.S. employers must confirm that you are legally authorized to work before they hire you. Once you have a Work Permit, you can show it to potential employers to prove that you can lawfully work in the U.S.
What happens if I work without a Work Permit?
Working in the United States without a Work Permit is very dangerous. If you work without authorization, the government may deport you. They may also bar you from entering the U.S. for 3-10 years, and you may have a much harder time trying to get temporary or permanent status in the future. For example: if you don't have a Work Permit and work while in the U.S. on a visitor visa and later apply for a student visa, the State Department will almost certainly reject your student visa application.
You also need a work permit for short-term or "under the table" employment. Even if you only get paid for working a few hours, working without authorization can cause serious immigration problems for you down the road.
The bottom line? Do not work in the United States without a Work Permit.
The good news is that applying for a Work Permit is easy! If you submit an application for a Green Card at the same time, it's also free!
ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your Work Permit application with our free online tool. Read on to learn more.
Who is eligible for a Work Permit?
Many immigrants can apply for a Work Permit from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS provides detailed information about who is eligible to work in the U.S. on its website. Eligible immigrants include:
- DACA recipients
- K-1 Fiance Visa holders, asylees
- Immigrants with pending adjustment of status (Green Card) applications
- Immigrants with extraordinary abilities
- Spouses of some visa holders
- Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED),
- Certain exchange visitors
- Approved "temporary workers"
- F-1 students who are experiencing financial hardship who want to apply for optional practical training (OPT)
You can find a complete list of immigration statuses that allow you to work in the U.S. on the instructions for the USCIS Work Permit application Form I-765.
Who isn't eligible for a Work Permit?
Work permit eligibility is straightforward.
If you are eligible for an immigration status that will allow you to work or have that status already, you can get a Work Permit.
If you aren't eligible for this type of immigration status, then you can't get a Work Permit.
Tourists (B-1 visa holders) and undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Work Permits. USCIS will not issue Work Permits to these immigrants, and it is illegal for U.S. employers to hire them.
If you are a B-1 Visa Holder or undocumented immigrant, and need to work in the U.S., speak with a lawyer or legal aid clinic before you do any work. You may be eligible for a status that would allow you to get a Work Permit, and working without a permit can make it impossible for you to obtain that status.
Who can work without applying for a Work Permit?
Green Card holders (lawful permanent residents) do not need to apply for a Work Permit. Your Green Card authorizes you to work in the U.S. for as long as it is valid! If your employer asks for proof that you can work in the U.S., you can show them your Green Card.
You also don't need to apply for a Work Permit once you become a U.S. citizen. If your employer asks for proof that you can work in the U.S., show them your U.S. passport or naturalization certificate.
If you have an employment visa, you don't need to apply for a separate Work Permit. This rule applies to immigrants with visas like the H-1B Visa L-1 Visa, E-3 Visa, and E Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor visa.
How to apply for a Work Permit (in 5 easy steps)
Now that you understand what Work Permits are and who can get them let's talk about the application process. There are five easy steps that everyone who applies for a Work Permit must follow.
Step #1 - Apply for an immigration status that will allow you to work
To get a Work Permit, you need to have an immigration status that allows you to work in the U.S. If you already have this type of status, or if you are in the process of applying for it, you can move on to Step #2.
Step #2 - Prepare Form I-765
You will use USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to apply for a Work Permit.
Form I-765 is pretty simple. You'll fill in your name, contact information, and information about why you are eligible.
There are only a few tricky questions:
- Question 22 - You need to list your most recent entry into the U.S., even if you have been living here for years and only left for a short trip. "Manner of entry" refers to the visa you used to enter the U.S. after your most recent trip abroad.
- Question 27 - You need to choose the correct code for the reason you are eligible to work in the U.S. You can find these codes in the Form I-765 instructions. Some of the most common categories are (c)(9) for immigrants who have applied (or are currently applying) for a Green Card, (c)(3)(C) for students doing OPT, (a)(5) for Asylees, (a)(12) for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, and (c)(5) for spouses of J-1 visa holders.
Step #3 - Prepare your supporting documents
You will need to submit six supporting documents with your Form I-765 to get a Work Permit:
- A copy of your passport photo page
- A copy of your current U.S. visa (if you are in the United States already). This visa will almost always be in your passport.
- A copy of your original Form I-94 travel record (front and back), or a printout of your electronic I-94, from your most recent entry into the U.S. You can get your electronic I-94 online.
- Copies of any of your previous work permits (front and back)
- Two 2-inch-by-2-inch passport-style photos of yourself taken recently (print your full name and Alien Registration Number on the back of each with a pencil or felt-tip pen)
- A copy of the "receipt notice" you received from the U.S. Government when you submitted your immigrant visa application. You only to provide this if you are applying for a Work Permit after you submitted your immigrant visa application. If you apply for permanent residence at the same time as your Work Permit, you do not need to send in a receipt notice.
If you have never had a work permit before, you will also need to send one of the following forms of identification documents with your Form I-765:
- A copy of your Birth certificate from your home country and a copy of a photo ID
- A copy of a visa you received from a consulate of a country other than the United States
- A copy of some other national identity document that has your photo or fingerprint on it.
Step #4 - Pay the filing fee
USCIS charges a $410 fee to process Form I-765. If you are applying for "Deferred Action" (for example, if you are a DACA recipient), you must also pay an $85 biometrics fee. These fees change regularly, so be sure to double-check USCIS's fee schedule for the most up-to-date amount before you file.
Some immigrants do not need to pay the fee when they file Form I-765. For example, immigrants applying to adjust status to a Green Card do not have to pay the I-765 filing fee. Check the instructions for Form I-765 for a full list of immigrants who do not need to pay the fee.
You can pay the fee by money order, personal check, or cashier's check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you are filing at a USCIS Lockbox facility, you can pay with credit or debit card by submitting Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions with your Form I-765. Service centers can't process credit card payments.
Step #5 - Submit Your Work Permit application
Once you have completed your Form I-765, assembled your supporting documents, and paid the filing fee, it's time to submit your application for a Work Permit to USCIS. It is a good idea to include a cover letter with your paperwork so that the government knows precisely what they are receiving from you. There are no specific requirements for cover letters, but you can use this cover letter template as a guide.
You cannot file Form I-765 by mail. That means that if you submit it with an application for immigration status (like a Green Card), you should probably file your entire application by mail. The address where you will send your application depends on where you live, where you want to have any necessary visa interview, your reason for filing Form I-765, and even which mail carrier you use to submit your application. Make sure that you carefully review the USCIS website's addresses so that you get your application to the correct location.
Make a complete copy of everything in your packet, including the checks, before sending it to USCIS.
How long does it take to get a work permit?
Once you submit your Work Permit application to USCIS, the processing time is usually 5–7 months. However, coronavirus and USCIS budget problems have caused significant application delays in 2020. USCIS will send you a "Receipt Notice" when they receive your paperwork. You should receive this notice 2-3 weeks after you file. Once you receive this notice, you will be able to use the Receipt Number that it provides to track your application status on USCIS's website.
If you need assistance with your Work Permit application, ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare all of the paperwork for free with our online tool.
What happens after I get my Work Permit?
If you've never worked in the United States before, you'll need to get a Social Security number (SSN) and a work permit to work legally. Thankfully, Form I-765 allows you to apply for a Social Security number, or a replacement Social Security Card, at the same time as your work permit. All you will need to do is check the option on your Form I-765
When you start Work, your employer will need you to complete a Form I-9 form and to show proof that you are allowed to work in the United States. Your Work Permit and SSN are all of the evidence you need! Once you have a social security number and a work permit, it's illegal for U.S. employers to discriminate against you based on your immigration status.
Working in the U.S. comes at a price, though - you'll have to pay U.S. payroll and income taxes just like everyone else.
There are severe penalties if you don't pay the required taxes. Not paying could ruin your chances of ever becoming a U.S. citizen! Check out this article to get a clear understanding of the taxes you need to pay.
How do I switch or renew my Work Permit?
Many immigrants who come to the United States for one reason end up staying for another. For example, you might come as a student and then fall in love with and marry a U.S. Citizen. You could also come on a Work Visa and end up getting a job with a company other than the one that initially sponsored you. Whatever the case, if you have a status that allows you to work and you want to switch to another status for any reason, you will need to submit a new Form I-765.
Let's say that you are a student working through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, and you marry a U.S. citizen. It is good to submit an application for a Work Permit with your Marriage Green Card application even if your current Work Permit is still valid. There are no disadvantages to having two different work permits at once, and applying this way will help you make sure that you can continue working just in case one of your statuses expires before your new one begins.
Renewing your work permit
It's essential to avoid any gaps in employment authorization and remember that your immigration work permit only lasts one year. The good news is that you can renew your Work Permit up to 180 days before your current one expires. It's a good idea to renew as soon as possible, even if you think that USCIS will approve you for a new status before your current Work Permit expires.
If your Work Permit expires before you renew it or get a new employment status, you will not be able to work!
Don't let this happen to you. All you need to do to renew is file another Form I-765 with proof that you are still eligible for a Work Permit. You'll also need to include the supporting documents listed in Step #3 above, and pay the renewal fee listed in Step #4. Renewing usually takes about 150 days to process, so renew sooner than you think you should.
When you are ready to switch or renew your Work Permit, ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your Form I-765 with our free online tool.
What should I do if USCIS denies my Work Permit application?
There are three main reasons that USCIS might reject your Work Permit application:
- You made a mistake on your application. If you filled out Form I-765 incorrectly, forgot to sign it, or didn't send the correct supporting documents, USCIS may reject your application.
- You weren't eligible for a Work Permit. The only way you can get a Work Permit is to have a U.S. immigration status that allows you to work while you are here. If you do not have such status and submit an application for a Work Permit, USCIS will reject your application.
- You received other Work Authorization before your Work Permit application was approved. If you apply for a Green Card and a Work Permit at the same time, your Green Card application might be approved before your Work Permit is. This doesn't happen very often. If it does, though, don't worry! Your Green Card allows you to work, and you will not need a separate Work Permit.
If USCIS rejects your Work Permit application because of a mistake or eligibility reason, it would be good to speak with an immigration attorney. You can often reapply if you are eligible, but doing so after a rejection can be tricky. It's best to get the advice of an expert so that you can get approved and start working. You can find an attorney or legal aid agency, many of whom can help you for free, on the government website USA.gov.
The best way to ensure that USCIS approves your Work Permit is to get it right the first time. ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your Work Permit paperwork for free with our simple web application.