Work Permit in the United States – Who Qualifies for one?
A Work Permit is a must have if you want to work in the United States
If you’re a foreign-born citizen who wants to work in the United States, you must apply for a work permit. While not every immigrant has to apply for a separate work permit, all need a permit to work.
What is a Work Permit?
Foreign nationals staying in the United States are unable to work without acquiring explicit permission under the terms of a visa or have applied for – and received – a work permit separately.
A work permit is a photo identity card issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is known by the name Employment Authorization Document or EAD.
The EAD looks like a driver’s license. People holding one can show it to employers to prove that they have the right to work in the country. Every US employer must, when hiring new employees, request proof of their immigration status and right to work, or face sanctions.
The USCIS divides foreign-born workers into non-immigrant (temporary) and immigrant (permanent) workers. Both must apply for a work permit, although you might have to be sponsored by an American employer.
It largely depends on the type of work. For example, in some circumstances, an American employer can only hire a foreign worker if there are no American workers capable or willing to do the job. However, this isn’t your problem as the applicant, but you should know whether you need sponsorship.
Who Doesn’t Have to Apply for a Work Permit?
Everyone with a green card has the right to work. They just have to show their green card to employers. Immigrants that become US citizens are also able to work and will have a US passport or naturalization papers to prove it to employers.
Foreign nationals that obtain work-based visas, which have been sponsored by a US employer, can work within the United States. For example, these visas may include an H-1B visa (for specialty workers), an L-1 visa (for intracompany transferees), an E-3 visa (for Australians only), or an E treaty trader or treaty investor visa (for employees working with registered as treaty traders and treaty investors in the United States).
You also won’t need a work permit if you’re traveling to the US for business reasons. B-1 visas, as they’re known formally, are a bit of an unusual category. You’re traveling for work, but not to do work in the US.
The main distinction is that you’re not paid by an American company. It’s for things like conferences and training courses, but always check with your employer that it’s the most relevant type of visa for your planned trip.
Who is Eligible for a Work Permit?
Essentially, anyone who wants to work in the US must apply for a permit. Along with the more obvious visa categories, it also includes things like fiance and spouse visas, F-1 students, and Green Card applicants.
You can find a full list on the USCIS Form I-765, which is the work permit application. As you can imagine, it doesn’t grant working status to illegal immigrants or tourist visa holders.
How to Apply for a Work Permit
To apply for an EAD work permit, you have to fill out the USCIS Form I-765, attach the proper documentation to prove you belong to a category of people able to get a work permit, attach photos, and include the appropriate fee.
Be sure to read through the instructions carefully as not every applicant has to pay a fee. You will have to submit your application through the mail, and it could take a few weeks to get a response. Read more on How to Apply for a US Work Permit.
As with normal visas, you should begin the application process for a work permit before you actually travel to the US. If you have an employer lined up, they can assist you in the application process.
Validity and Renewal
Generally, a work permit is valid for one year from the date of issue. However, a work permit will never remain valid for longer than you’re allowed to stay in the country based on your primary visa category.
For example, if you have a 90-day visa (such as a K-1 fiancé visa), your work permit won’t last longer because it’s not a legal right to remain in the country. This doesn’t create problems, though, as you can adjust your primary visa category depending on changing circumstances.
In this situation, you’d probably apply for a Green Card once you’re married, and this would then entitle you to work anyway.
Always keep an eye on the expiry date of your work permit. If it expires, you could risk losing your job, being arrested as part of an immigration raid, and being expelled from the country. Similarly, your employer could risk fines for employing an unauthorized immigrant.
To be on the safe side, you should always begin your work permit renewal between 3 and 6 months before the expiry date. This ensures it won’t run out and there won’t be any issues caused by delays.
You renew your work permit through the same process as the original application. Providing you still have a job to do in the US, renewal is a much easier process, though.
Getting Legal Help
If you have questions about whether you are eligible for a work permit, or you need help filling in the application, then consult an immigration attorney.
Your eligibility can depend on many different factors, so it’s always worth seeking specific advice about your situation. Also, you should always apply directly through the USCIS or your country’s American embassy/consulate to avoid scams.
Of course, applying for a Green Card – either traditionally or through the Diversity Visa Lottery – is a good way to get permission to work. It means you don’t have to have a job lined up and that you can live in the US for longer.
Easy way to get a Green Card – Apply in the Green Card Lottery