Employment Authorization

Who Qualifies for a Work Permit in the United States?

Only individuals with legal residency (green cards), U.S. citizenship, or specific types of work visas are eligible to work in the U.S. without obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) beforehand. Additionally, only a limited number of individuals will meet the criteria for obtaining a work permit.

Foreign nationals residing in the United States are not permitted to work unless they have obtained explicit authorization through their visa or other legal status, or have obtained a separate work permit.

It is important to note that a work permit is distinct from a green card. Instead, it is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The EAD serves as a form of photo identification, similar to a driver’s license, and allows holders to demonstrate their eligibility to work. When hiring new employees, all U.S. employers are required to request proof of immigration status or the right to work. Employers who fail to comply with this regulation may face sanctions.

Which Non-Citizens Don’t Need to Separately Apply for a Work Permit?

All green card holders (lawful permanent or conditional residents) automatically have permission to work in the United States. They simply need to show their green card to employers.

Immigrants who become U.S. citizens can also work and can provide their U.S. passport or naturalization certificate or social security cards to employers, since US citizens are obviously permitted to work in the country without any special permission.

Foreign nationals who have obtained work-based visas sponsored by U.S. employers are also eligible to work in the United States. Examples of such visas include the H-1B (for specialty workers), L-1 visa (for intracompany transferees), E-3 visa (only for Australians), and E treaty trader or treaty investor visa (for employees of companies registered as treaty traders or treaty investors in the United States). Those here in other immigration status must obtain employment authorization by applying for it.

Who Is Eligible to Apply for a Work Permit

There are various groups of individuals who have the option to apply for a “work permit” or Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if they want to pursue employment. It is important to note that a foreign national who is eligible for an EAD must actually apply for and obtain said authorization before they are permitted to take employment.

These categories encompass individuals such as asylees, individuals with a pending application for adjustment of status (a green card), spouses of different visa holders, individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), F-1 students facing economic hardship or seeking optional practical training (OPT), K-1 fiancé visa holders, DACA recipients, U nonimmigrants (and starting in 2022, individuals with a pending U visa petition that was found to be bona fide), special immigrant juveniles who have an approved I-360 and have been granted deferred action while they are waiting for a visa to become available, parolees, and the list goes on.

The categories are too numerous to mention here, but a complete list can be found in the instructions accompanying USCIS Form I-765 (the work permit application form).

Those Not Eligible For Employment Authorization

Individuals in the US on a B-1 visitor visa (or tourist visa) and individuals that are in the United States with no lawful status are not eligible to obtain employment authorization. USCIS does not authorize these individuals to work in the United States, and it is indeed illegal for them to do so or for employers to hire them.

Of course, the thirteen million + non citizens in the US with no lawful status do have to work to live here and they do. There are potential immigration consequences for working without authorization but some people have no choice. If a non citizen is going to work in the United States without authorization it is recommended that they get a Tax Identification Number and file tax returns every year so they can show they are not violating US tax laws.

How to Apply to USCIS for a Work Permit

To apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you will need to complete USCIS Form I-765. Additionally, you must provide supporting documentation demonstrating that you fall into a category of individuals eligible to apply for work permits. You should also attach photos and include the necessary fee. Please read the instructions carefully, as some categories of applicants may be exempt from paying a fee.

Some people are eligible to renew their employment authorization online (asylum applicants and asylees for instance). You can find out more on the USCIS website.

Employment authorization can now be issued for as long as 5 years per new USCIS policy. Applicants can always renew their work authorization once it expires so long as they remain eligible. There are noncitizens who have been renewing their employment authorization ever year for decades.

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