Many people come to the United States in search of employment — but not everyone is eligible to work in the United States.
Green card holders automatically have authorization to work in the United States, and some employment visa holders (such as people in H-1B status) are allowed to work for specified employers. Everyone else needs a work permit, also called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), in order to work in the United States.
To request a work permit, you’ll need to file. Not everyone can get a work permit, though, so before filing it’s important to check whether you’re eligible.
In this article, you’ll learn about all the circumstances in which you might be able to receive work authorization in the United States. We’ll cover:
- Green card applicants
- Family-based categories
- Nationality-based categories
- Asylees and refugees
- Employment-based categories
- Other categories
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Once you get your green card, you’ll be allowed to work in the United States without restriction. But if you apply for your green card from within the United States, using the Adjustment of Status process, you can request a work permit while your application is pending. Once you receive your work permit, you’ll be able to work freely while you’re waiting for your green card to be approved.
You can file your work permit request alongside your green card application, at no extra charge, if you’re applying based on marriage or family ties to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
IMPORTANT! If you’re applying through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you can file your work permit request right away, but if you’re applying through marriage to a green card holder you’ll have to wait for a visa number to become available before filing your application and work permit request. That means you could face a wait of almost a year before you can request employment authorization.
Interested in applying for a marriage-based green card? Boundless takes all the required government forms, including the work permit application, and turns them into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under 2 hours. Learn more, or check your eligibility without providing any personal or financial information.
As described above, marriage and family-based green card applicants can gain work permits while waiting for their applications to be processed. But certain family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can request work authorization even if they haven’t yet applied for their own green card:
- Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens can apply for work authorization as long as they apply within 90 days of arriving in the United States on a fiancé (K-1) visa.
- Spouses of U.S. citizens can apply for work authorization if they came to the United States on a K-3 nonimmigrant spousal visa.
- In addition, certain people who qualify for the Family Unity Program and the LIFE Family Unity program can apply for work authorizationBoundless mails to your doorstep your complete filing package — including the forms you’ll need to work, travel, and ultimately obtain your green card. Learn how we can help you, or start your application.
There are some people who can apply for work authorization based on the country they are from. The following situations allow citizens of certain countries to apply for work authorization in the United States:
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are eligible for work authorization under TPS. The U.S. government is seeking to end many of these countries’ TPS designation, so check the USCIS website for updates.
- Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Citizens of Liberia are eligible for work authorization under DED. This program is currently projected to end by March 30, 2020. Check the USCIS website for updates.
- Citizens of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, or Palau. Citizens of these countries can enter the United States under an agreement with the U.S. government. They must apply for work authorization, but can then work in the United States without restriction.
- Spouses and children of E-1 Treaty Traders. The spouses and children of people from eligible E-1 treaty countries who are in the United States conducting international trade can apply for work authorization.
Do you have confidential questions about how your situation might affect your green card application? With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who can help you understand your options. Learn more, or check your eligibility for a marriage-based green card.
Most foreign students are not allowed to work in the United States (except in specific, on-campus positions) while they complete their studies, but they can apply for work authorization in the following circumstances:
- Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students in F-1 status can gain temporary work authorization after their degree program ends as part of the Optional Practical Training program. J-1 visa holders use the Academic Training program, which is similar but doesn’t require a work permit.
- Internships with an International Organization. Students with an internship offer from a qualified international organization can apply for work authorization to complete the internship.
- Economic Hardship. USCIS sometimes grant work authorization to students facing economic hardship. This is only available to students who have already studied in the U.S. for at least a year, and who face financial difficulties due to circumstances beyond their control.
- Spouses and children of J-1 exchange visitor programs. The spouse and children of J-1 students, or students participating in a study-based cultural exchange program, are eligible to apply for work authorization.
- Students at Vocational Schools Seeking Practical Training. Vocational school students can also apply for work authorization to get practical training in their field of specialty.
Boundless can help you transition from a student visa to a marriage-based green card, making it easy to complete your green card application and avoid common problems. Learn more about what you get with Boundless, or check your eligibility today!
If you’re admitted to the United States on humanitarian grounds, you’ll usually be able to work right away, without needing to file a work permit application:
- If you entered the United States as a refugee, then you, your spouse and your children are authorized to work, and you don’t need to request a work permit. You’ll be given a work permit when you arrive in the United States, or soon thereafter by the organization that helped you resettle.
- If you are granted asylum by USCIS once you’re already in the United States, you and your family are eligible to work in the United States. Your work permit will be issued automatically, and you won’t need to file an I-765.
- If you are granted asylum by a judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals then you will need to contact USCIS to obtain work permits for yourself and your family. You’ll be given instructions when you are granted asylum.
With Boundless, you get the confidence of an independent immigration attorney who will review all of your materials and answer any questions you have — for no additional fee. Learn more, or check whether you’re eligible for a spousal visa.
There are a number of employment-based categories that allow individuals to file for work authorization on their own, as opposed to having your employer submit an application for work authorization. In the following situations, non-U.S. citizens can apply for work authorization themselves:
- As the domestic worker of a foreign citizen who is working in the United States temporarily;
- As the domestic worker of a U.S. citizen who usually lives outside of the United States and who will be stationed in the United States for less than 4 years;
- As an airline employee, if you are not from the same country as the airline you work for;
- As the spouse of non-U.S. citizens who are in the United States in the following capacities:
- As an investor;
- As an intracompany transferee, or someone whose company has transferred them from an office outside the United States to an office inside the United States
- As an investor in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- As a temporary worker in the H-1B category
In addition, some people who have a pending employment-based green card application may be able to apply for work authorization if they can prove that there are “compelling circumstances.” In this case, you will have to demonstrate that you, your dependents, or your employer would suffer if significantly if you can’t work while you are waiting for your employment-based green card.
For some applicants, it can be quicker and easier to obtain a marriage green card than an employment-based green card. If you take that path, Boundless will stay with you until the green card finish line, helping you keep on top of interview preparation, follow-on forms, and every other important milestone along your immigration journey. Learn more, or check your eligibility for free.
There are some categories of people who can apply for work authorization but whose situations don’t fit nicely into any of the above situations. People in the following situations can apply for work authorization in the United States:
- DACA Recipients. People who lack immigration status because they were brought to the United States as children can request work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. USCIS is not accepting new DACA applications, only renewals of existing status. Check the USCIS page for updates.
- Crime Victims. Victims of certain crimes – including human trafficking and domestic abuse – can apply for work authorization in the United States, as can their family members.
- “Withholding of Removal” grantees. People targeted for deportation, but who an immigration judge rules would face persecution in their home country, can seek work permits.
- Public Interest parolees. People who were allowed into the United States “in the public interest” – typically in order to give evidence or participate in legal proceedings – can request work authorization.
- Dependents of Diplomatic Employees. The spouses and minor children of diplomatic employees can apply for work authorization and use it to work anywhere in the United States.