Even if you have entered the United States with a valid visa, you are not automatically granted the right to work. Depending on the type of visa you entered the country with, you must apply for an Employment Authorization Document, known as “EAD” for short, you will need a work permit before being able to work legally in the United States. This process begins by submitting Form I-765 to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Those with a non-immigrant visa who are in the process of adjusting their status to permanent resident (but have not yet received their green card) also need to apply for an EAD to work in the United States. After obtaining the EAD card, remember that it does not last forever, and you must renew it before the expiration date.
What rights does a valid Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document grant?
An Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) is granted to the applicant if their submission of Form I-765 is successful. The applicant will receive a wallet-sized laminated EAD card with their photo, biometric data (such as fingerprints), and an expiration date. The main advantage of the EAD card is work flexibility. While your EAD is valid, you have the freedom to apply for a new job or change your current job at will, without needing your employer to file any petitions on your behalf. Your EAD card is your work permit and is legal proof that you have the right to work in the United States. Showing your EAD to potential employers will assure them that you are legally authorized to work in the United States, and they do not risk violating U.S. immigration laws by hiring you.
Who is eligible to apply for a Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document?
Here is a list of common visa categories whose holders need to apply for an EAD to work legally in the United States:
- Dependent spouse (H-4 visa) of an H-1B visa holder with an approved I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker).
- Foreign students under the F-1 visa category who need work experience as part of their study program or, in rare cases, can demonstrate severe economic hardship.
- Foreign students under the M-1 visa designation who need practical training upon completing their studies.
- Adjustment of Status applicants who have filed Form I-485 and are waiting for USCIS to process their applications.
- Those granted refugee or asylum status can apply for an EAD along with their spouses and children.
- In some cases, asylum applicants can also apply for an EAD.
- Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens under the K-1 visa category.
- Unmarried children under 21 years old (K-2 category) of K-1 visa holders.
- Foreign spouse (K-3 visa holders) of a U.S. citizen.
- Unmarried children under 21 years old (K-4 category) of K-3 visa holders.
- Spouse of any E-category investor visa holder.
- Dependent spouse (L-2 visa) of an L-1 visa holder.
This is just a general overview of some of the most common visa categories that can apply for a Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document. It is updated until June 2021 but is not a static list and will change over time as new laws are approved and new rules are implemented. For an updated list of all eligible visa categories to apply for a work permit, visit the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization page on the USCIS website.
How do I apply for a Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document? How long does the process take?
Compared to most USCIS applications, Form I-765 is quite straightforward. You will need to complete the form and mail it to USCIS along with all required supporting documents. You will need to find the location to submit the application and determine the corresponding fee on the USCIS Form I-765 information page. For a checklist of all required supporting documents, visit the USCIS page here. Foreign students under F-1 or M-1 visa categories should consult with their school’s international student office for assistance in applying for work authorization in the United States.
Processing times for Form I-765 can vary significantly among different local USCIS offices. For updated information on processing times, visit the USCIS Processing Time Check page, select Form I-765 from the dropdown menu, choose the corresponding local office, and click the “Get Processing Time” button.
Is it illegal to work in the United States without a Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document?
Working in the United States without authorization is illegal, even for holders of a valid visa. Violations are taken very seriously by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the penalties can be severe. For example, a non-immigrant visa holder in the process of adjusting status to a permanent resident who is caught working without authorization could be outright denied a green card application.
Anyone caught working without authorization may also be barred from entering the United States for a period of three or ten years, depending on how long they worked without permission. Tourist or student visa holders caught working without authorization are routinely denied visa renewals or adjustment of status applications by USCIS for violating the terms of their visa. A work permit is required even for short-term or informal jobs. Even a few hours of unauthorized work will result in serious immigration problems in the future; it’s better not to take the risk.
To ensure your safety, consult with an immigration attorney to confirm that you are eligible to work or apply for a Work Permit (I-765) – Employment Authorization Document before seeking employment.