Even if you have entered the United States with a valid visa, you are not automatically granted the right to work. Depending on the visa class with which you entered the country, you will need to apply for a work permit (I-765) employment authorization document (EAD for short), before being legally able to work in the United States. This process starts with filing Form I-765 with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Those on a non-immigrant visa who are in the process of adjusting their status to that of a permanent resident (but have not yet received their green card) will also have to file for an EAD to be able to work in the U.S. After you get the EAD card, remember that it does not last forever and will have to be renewed before the expiration date.
What Rights Does A Valid Work Permit Grant?
An employment authorization document (EAD card) is granted to the applicant if their I-765 filing has been successful. The applicant should receive a wallet-sized laminated EAD card with their photo, biometric data (such as fingerprints) and an expiration date. The biggest advantage of the EAD card is job flexibility. As long as your EAD is valid, you have the freedom to apply for a new job or switch your current job at will – you don’t need your employer to file for anything on your behalf. Your EAD card is your work permit and is legal proof that you have the right to employment in the United States. Showing your EAD to potential employers will assure them that you are legally allowed to work in the United States and they are not at any risk of breaching 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 all the common visa categories of visa whose holders must apply for an EAD to legally work in the United States:
- The dependent spouse (H-4 visa class) of an H-1B visa holder with an approved I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) filing.
- Foreign students under the F-1 visa class who need to work experience as part of their course of study or, in rare cases, who can demonstrate severe economic hardship.
- Foreign students under the M-1 visa designation needing practical experience at the completion of their studies.
- Adjustment of Status applicants who have filed an I-485 and are waiting for USCIS to process their applications.
- Those who have been granted refugee status or granted asylum can apply for an EAD along with their spouses and children.
- In some instances, applicants for asylum may also apply for an EAD.
- Fiancés/Fiancées of U.S. citizens under the K-1 visa category.
- Unmarried children under 21 years of age (K-2 category) of K-1 visa holders.
- Foreign spouse (K-3 visa holders) of a U.S. citizen.
- Unmarried children under 21 years of age (K-4 category) of K-3 visa holders.
- Spouse of any E-category investor visa holder.
- Spouse or unmarried child under 21 years old (J-2 category) of an exchange visitor J-1 visa holder.
- L-2 dependent spouse of an L-1 visa holder.
This is just a brief overview of some of the most common visa categories that can apply for a Work Permit (I-765) Employment Authorization Document. It is up to date as of June 2021, but it is not a static list and will change over time as new legislation is passed and new rules take hold. For an up to date list of all the visa categories eligible to apply for a work permit please visit the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization page of the USCIS website.
How Do I Apply for A Work Permit (I-765) Employment Authorization Document? How Long Are the Processing Times?
Compared to most USCIS applications, Form I-765 is fairly straightforward. You’ll need to fill out the form and mail it to USCIS along with all required supporting documents. You will have to find out your filing location and determine the filing fee from the USCIS Form I-765 information page. For a checklist of all the supporting documents required please visit the relevant USCIS page here. Foreign students under the F-1 or M-1 visa classes will have to consult with their school’s international student office to get their assistance in applying for work authorization in the U.S.
Processing times for Form I-765 can vary wildly between the different USCIS field offices. For up-to-date processing time information please go to the USCIS Check Processing Times page, select Form I-765 from the drop-down menu and the relevant field office and click the “Get Processing Time” button.
It Is Illegal to Work in the U.S. Without A Work Permit (I-765) Employment Authorization Document?
Working in the United States without authorization is against the law – even for valid visa holders. Infractions are taken very seriously by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the penalties can be severe. For example, a non-immigrant visa holder in the process of adjusting their status to permanent resident caught working without authorization could have their entire green card application denied.
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 were working without a permit. Those on a tourist visa or student visa caught working without authorization are routinely denied visa renewals or adjustment of status applications by USCIS for having violated the terms of their visa. A work permit is required even for short-term or informal employment. Even a few hours of work without authorization will result in serious immigration problems in the future – it is best not to risk it.
Be safe and consult with an immigration attorney to make sure you are eligible to work or to apply for a Work Permit (I-765) Employment Authorization Document before seeking work.