US Work Authorization Meaning: What is Work Authorization Status?

US Work Authorization Meaning: What is Work Authorization Status?

Moving to the United States is a big step in your personal and professional life. When you immigrate to the United States, you may come here to work temporarily or permanently, to cultivate relationships, or even to become a U.S. citizen.

However, not everyone who is searching for employment is eligible to work. Green card holders have the authorization to work, and so do some employment visa holders. Everyone else will need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), often called a work permit.

An EAD grants temporary work authorization and allows holders to seek and accept employment legally. Navigating the application process for an EAD can be complex, but it is essential for those who need work authorization to maintain their immigration status and secure employment opportunities.

This guide will provide a step-by-step overview of the EAD application process, including eligibility criteria, preparing and submitting the application, processing times, and renewing or replacing an EAD. By following this guide, you will be better equipped to obtain your EAD and explore job opportunities in the United States.

List of the U.S. Work Permits Eligible Categories

Who's Eligible for a U.S. Work Permit?

Any person awaiting their green card can apply for work authorization, but numerous other categories of immigrants are also eligible for a work permit.

The USCIS provides a comprehensive eligibility category list to help you determine if you qualify for a work permit, but below are some examples of eligible categories.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Asylum seekers who have a pending asylum application and have waited for 150 days without receiving a decision are eligible to apply for an EAD. Similarly, refugees who have been granted asylum in the U.S. can also apply for an EAD to work legally.

DACA recipients

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are eligible to apply for an EAD, which allows them to work legally in the United States. The EAD is typically valid for the same period as their DACA status, usually two years.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders

Individuals granted Temporary Protected Status due to unsafe conditions in their home country can apply for an EAD to work legally in the United States during their designated TPS period.

F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

F-1 students can apply for an EAD for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to work in a job related to their field of study for up to 12 months (or up to 36 months for STEM majors). Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is another work authorization option for F-1 students but does not require an EAD.

J-2 visa holders

Spouses and dependents of J-1 visa holders (i.e., J-2 visa holders) can apply for an EAD to work in the United States as long as the income earned is not used to support the J-1 visa holder.

Other eligible categories

Several other categories of individuals may be eligible to apply for an EAD, including certain nonimmigrant visa holders, parolees, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners, and some spouses of nonimmigrant visa holders (e.g., H-4, L-2, E-2). It is essential to review the USCIS guidelines to determine your eligibility based on your specific immigration status.

What Does Work Authorization Mean?

Regardless of your current visa or green card status, your work authorization allows you to become a U.S. employee.

What Isn’t Defined as Work Authorization?

A United States work authorization is not your visa card. The EAD is simply documentation meant to provide a legal way for you to work while waiting for your visa to process.

If you have a visa that is not a work visa, such as a fiancé, family, or student visa, you do not automatically have permission to work. You still must have an EAD to gain employment. Legal status in the United States does not automatically equate to legal working status. After you receive your EAD, you can begin working in the United States regardless of your visa type.

What's the Difference Between Work Permits and Work Visas?

A work permit and a work visa are two distinct terms in employment authorization for foreign nationals in the United States. They serve different purposes and have separate application processes.

Work Permit (Employment Authorization Document)

An EAD is typically granted to individuals already in the U.S. under specific immigration categories, such as asylum seekers, refugees, DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT), among others. A temporary work permit must be renewed according to the specific category’s validity period.

Work Visa

A work visa is a nonimmigrant visa granted by the U.S. government that allows foreign nationals to enter the United States for employment. There are several types of work visas, such as H-1B (specialty occupations), L-1 (intracompany transferees), O-1 (individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement), and TN (NAFTA professionals), among others.

To obtain a work visa, an employer in the United States typically needs to sponsor the foreign national and file a petition with USCIS. Once the petition is approved, the foreign national can apply for a work visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. Work visas are tied to a specific employer and any change in employment usually requires the new employer to file a new petition or for the foreign national to seek a visa amendment.

Consequences of Working Without Work Authorization Status

The United States Citizenship & Immigration Service takes legal employment seriously. To work in the U.S. while your card petition is pending, you must have an EAD. If you begin working without work authorization, then you may invalidate your green card and not be able to attain your visa or legal immigrant status.

How to Get Work Authorization in the U.S.

The first step to applying for your Employment Authorization Document is completing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

Step-by-Step Guide to Form I-765

Part 1: Reason for applying

You’ll have three options in this section. You’ll check the first box if you’re submitting the form to receive a work permit, the second box if you’ve lost your work permit and need a replacement, and the third box if you need to renew your permit.

Part 2: Information about you

You’ll provide basic information like your name(s), address, Alien Registration Number, USCIS Online Account Number, gender, marital status, nationality, social security number (if applicable), parent’s names, and last arrival in the U.S.

You’ll also need to select your eligibility category, corresponding to the specific immigration status or situation that qualifies you for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Review the form’s instructions and USCIS guidelines to determine the correct category for your situation.

Here are some examples:

(a)(5) – Asylum applicants

(c)(9) – Adjustment of status applicants

(c)(33)  – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients

(c)(19) – Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders

You’ll input your code on number 27 under the “information about your eligibility” category section.

Application image

Part 3-5: Signatures

You will sign in Part 3. If you use an interpreter or preparer, they’ll sign in their designated sections.

The form is submitted to the USCIS. To file your Form I-765, you can complete an online form or submit it through the mail.

Our immigration attorneys can guide you through the processes of filing form I-765 and provide advice on the best way to obtain your work authorization. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, so our experienced attorneys are here to help you achieve your goal of working in the United States.

Online Case Status Tool

Once you have submitted your Form I-765, you can track the status of your application using the USCIS online case status tool. You will need your receipt number, which can be found on the notice of action (Form I-797C) sent by USCIS after they have received your application.

By entering your receipt number on the USCIS website, you can check your application’s progress and receive updates on any additional steps or requirements.

Requesting Expedited Processing (If Eligible)

Sometimes, you may be eligible to request expedited processing for your EAD application. To qualify for expedited processing, you must demonstrate a compelling reason, such as severe financial loss, urgent humanitarian need, or an error by USCIS.

Call the USCIS Contact Center or submit an online inquiry to request expedited processing. Keep in mind that expedited processing is granted at the discretion of USCIS, and not all requests will be approved.

Receiving the EAD Card

Once your EAD application is approved, USCIS will mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) to the address you provided on your Form I-765. The EAD card will display your name, photo, expiration date, and unique card number. Make sure to review your EAD card for any errors and report them to USCIS immediately. With your EAD card, you can work legally in the United States for the specified period.

Required Documents to File Form I-765

Each visa has different requirements to submit when filing your Form I-765. Depending on your pending or current visa, you must provide specific items and documentation confirming your current status as a visa applicant.

However, there are a few general requirements to submit your employment application, including:

  • Two identical passport-style photographs.
  • A copy of your Form I-94, Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure record. You will need copies of the front and the back of the document. You may also provide your passport, other travel documents, or a printed copy of your electronic Form I-94
  • If you are renewing your EAD, a copy of your last EAD
  • If you are working with an immigration attorney, your Form G-28
  • A government-issued identity document
  • Proof of immigration status

Speak with your immigration lawyer about additional documents you must submit along with your employment application.

Form I-765 Filing Fee

The filing fee is $410. A biometrics service fee may be $85 if you are required to get a biometrics exam.  If you are filing Form I-765 along with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Resident or Adjust Status, you do not have to pay the EAD application fee.

You may be eligible for a fee waiver if you cannot pay the filing fee. To request a fee waiver, you must submit Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, and Form I-765. You must provide evidence of financial hardship, such as income proof, means-tested public benefits receipt, or other documentation demonstrating your inability to pay the fee.

Authorization of Work Timeline

The application process will depend on your location and your visa status. For example, students with an F-1 visa currently have a wait time of about one month, but an L-2 spouse might wait between 11 and 17 months.

To get an estimate for your category, visit the USCIS Processing Times calculator.

How Long is a Work Permit Valid?

The validity of a work permit, also known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), depends on the specific immigration category under which it was issued. Generally, work permits are valid for one or two years. However, some categories may have shorter or longer validity periods.

  • Asylum seekers: Work permits for asylum seekers are usually valid for two years and can be renewed as long as the individual’s asylum case remains pending.
  • DACA recipients: Work permits for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are typically valid for two years and can be renewed if the individual continues to meet the DACA eligibility requirements.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders: Work permits for TPS holders are valid for the duration of the TPS designation for their country, which can range from 6 to 18 months. TPS holders can renew their work permits if the TPS designation is extended.
  • F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT): Work permits for F-1 students participating in pre-completion or post-completion OPT are generally valid for one year. Those in certain STEM fields may be eligible for a 24-mont extension, resulting in a total OPT period of up to three years.
  • Adjustment of status applicants: Work permits for adjustment of status applicants are usually valid for one year and can be renewed until the individual’s adjustment of status application is approved or denied

You can both renew and replace your EAD. If your EAD is about to expire, you can renew your EAD 180 days before your work authorization expiration date. To renew or replace your EAD, you only need to submit another Form I-765 and any required fees.

Contact an Immigration Attorney Today

The experienced attorneys at Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. can help you apply for your visa and EAD. Having a work authorization status is essential in starting your life in the United States. We can stay with you through your visa process to ensure you can work legally in the United States. Contact us at 312.444.1940 today.

We're looking forward to hearing from you!