What is an Employment Authorization Document?
An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is sometimes referred to as a work permit — or, more officially, Form I-766. With this document, you can prove that you are eligible to work legally in the United States. Those who have applied for a green card while living in the United States may obtain an EAD in order to work while their application is pending. Likewise, K-1 fiancé visa holders, spouses of H-1B workers, and students holding an F-1 student visa may all apply for a work permit in certain situations.
If your Form I-766 is linked to your green card application, you can apply for any legally sanctioned job that’s available on the “open market” — meaning, your work permit will not bind you to a particular employer, as with an H-1B.
In this guide, we’ll provide a broad overview of the EAD, addressing some of the more frequently asked questions along the way:
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To obtain a work permit, you’ll need to file Form I-765, otherwise known as an Application for Employment Authorization. Not to be confused for Form I-766, which is the name of the actual EAD.
If you already have a green card, or if you’re employed in the United States with a non-immigrant visa (such as an H-1B), you do not need to apply for an EAD, as your visa already authorizes you to work. If, however, you’re waiting for your green card or asylum application to go through — or if you’re in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa that allows you to work but first requires you to get an EAD — then you may be eligible to submit Form I-765.
Note that green card petitioners applying from abroad (via consular processing) do not need to obtain an EAD because they will be authorized to work in the United States upon their arrival.
All EAD applicants will need to file Form I-765, but the types of required evidence will vary depending on your situation. If, for example, you’re an F-1 student looking for work off-campus due to financial difficulties, you’ll need to attach evidence such as the following:
- Documentation showing you’ve been an F-1 student for a full academic year
- Proof that a job will not interfere with your studies
- Documents proving you have a full course load
- Proof that employment will help sidestep “severe economic hardship”
These are just a few examples that pertain specifically to “F-1 Students Seeking Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship.” There are other subcategories for F-1 students, in addition to a range of broader categories — each with its own set of requirements.
By and large, anyone filing Form I-765 will need to attach the following documents:
- Copy of passport — specifically the page containing your photo
- Two 2×2 passport-style photos (with alien registration number and full name written on back)
- I-94 travel record
- Copies of other work permits, if applicable
- Copy of U.S. visa, which can be found in your passport
You may also need to attach proof that your green card application is pending, if you are applying for an EAD after you’ve already filed Form I-485. Alternatively, you can file Form I-765 simultaneously with your green card application.
Getting ready to work
If you’ve never worked in the United States before, you’ll need to get a Social Security number (SSN) as soon as you get your work permit. Under the previous Form I-765, obtaining a Social Security Number could not be done through the work permit application itself. You had to go to your local Social Security Administration office, fill out the application for a Social Security number, and show the officer your passport and your work permit. Your Social Security card would then be mailed to whatever address you provided on your application form.
Fortunately, in late 2017 USCIS introduced a new and improved Form I-765, which now allows you to apply for a Social Security number or replacement Social Security card directly through the work permit application itself, without having to visit the local Social Security Administration office. Although it is not required that you apply for a Social Security number using the revised form, doing so will save you a lot of time and paperwork. (Note that beginning on December 4, 2017, USCIS is not accepting the old Form I-765.)
When you start work, your employer is required to have you complete an I-9 form and to show proof that you are allowed to work in the United States. As long as you have a social security number and a work permit, it’s illegal for employers in the United States to discriminate against you because of your immigration status. You’ll be required to pay payroll and income taxes in the United States, just like everyone else.
Failure to pay required taxes can result in many serious penalties and can jeopardize any future application for U.S. citizenship.
Consequences of Working Without Authorization
Working in the United States without a work permit can put your entire green card application at risk. USCIS will closely scrutinize any green card application from an applicant who has previously worked without authorization. USCIS can overlook unauthorized employment only in some very specific situations—for example, spouses of U.S. citizens who have previously worked without authorization will not be barred from receiving a green card.
The penalties for working without authorization include being barred from entering the United States for three or ten years, depending on how long you were working without a permit. For example, if you work without authorization while in the United States on a tourist visa and later apply for a student visa, your unauthorized employment will make you ineligible for that student visa.
You are required to have a work permit even for short-term or informal employment. Getting paid for even just a few hours of work without authorization can cause serious immigration problems in the future. Fortunately, applying for a work permit is relatively easy, especially if you submit the application at the same time as your green card application. Having a work permit means you’ll be able to start (or continue) your career in the United States well before your green card application is processed. Even if you’re unsure whether you’ll be working in future, it’s a good idea to apply for a work permit in case an excellent professional opportunity comes along!
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The process for getting a new work permit (Form I-766) is relatively straightforward. Ultimately, before you apply for a renewal or replacement, you want to make sure you are still eligible for employment authorization. If so, you can use the steps outlined below to obtain a new EAD.
Renewing Your EAD
If your work permit has expired, or if it will expire within the next 6 months, you can renew it by simply filing a new Form I-765. You will also need to pay a filing fee (as with the original application), unless you’ve applied for a fee waiver and have received approval.
Replacing Your EAD
If your work permit has been mutilated, lost, or stolen, you can, as above, file Form I-765 (with any required fees). If you’re expecting an EAD but haven’t received one, you can send an inquiry to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) services notifying them that the card has yet to be delivered.
If, on the other hand, you receive your card but it is factually incorrect (at no fault of USCIS), you can, again, submit Form I-765, with a filing fee, the original permit, and any required evidence (listed in the filing instructions).
Finally, if USCIS made any errors on your EAD, you can send the erroneous document, any documents supporting the proposed correction, and a clear description of the error, to the National Benefit Center or, alternatively, to the service center that processed your most recent Application for Work Authorization. There’s no need, in this case, to file Form I-765 or pay any fees.
Filing a green card application can be a daunting task. The EAD is just one aspect of a much larger process. With Boundless, you can fill out all the necessary forms in under 2 hours. Get started today!
1. Who needs a work permit?
If you are in the U.S. and you are applying for a family-based green card, have a K-1 fiancé visa, or are the spouse of a H-1B visa holder, then you may be able to apply for a work permit so you can work while you are in the U.S.. Students who are studying in the U.S. with a F-1 student visa may also wish to apply for a work permit.
2. How long is a work permit valid for?
Work permits issued through the adjustment of status (AOS) process are valid for two years. This applies to initial (first-time) EADs through adjusting stats, as well as renewal EADs while the AOS application is still pending.
3. Can I use the work permit as a form of identification?
If you have an EAD, you may be able to use it as an identification.
4. What if you already have work authorization?
It’s not uncommon for someone who came to the United States as a student or through a temporary work visa to meet and fall in love with their spouse in the United States. If you are already working in the United States with a valid H-1B visa, through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for recent graduates, or through any other work visa, you don’t have to stop working just because you’re applying for a green card.
But it’s still a good idea to submit an application for a work permit when you apply for your green card. That’s because there are no obvious disadvantages to having two types of work authorization at the same time, and having a work permit based on your green card application gives you peace of mind—for example, in case your H-1B visa isn’t renewed, or if you’d like to switch employers or start your own business. The work permit based on your green card application is an “open market” Employment Authorization Document—that is, it doesn’t tie you to one particular sponsoring employer.