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Can I Work While My Green Card Application Is Pending?

Frequently asked questions about working while waiting

If you currently live in the United States and want to work for a U.S. employer while your family-based green card application (Form I-485) is pending, you will need a work permit first. You may not apply for a work permit if you live abroad.

There are other factors to consider before and after obtaining a work permit. Read on for answers to some common questions.

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Work Permit FAQs

I’m the relative of a U.S. citizen or green card holder and living in the United States. Can I start working while I’m waiting for my green card?

If you already have a valid work visa, such as an H-1B or L-1 visa, you can continue working in the United States even while your green card application is being processed. Otherwise, you must obtain a work permit (officially called an “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) before you can start working in the United States.

For relatives of U.S. citizens, the work permit application is typically filed as part of the initial green card application package.

Relatives of green card holders, however, must wait until they are eligible to file their green card application before they apply for a work permit.

How long will I wait for the work permit?

Your work permit will arrive within five months — up to seven months, in some cases — after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your work permit application. (Until recently, the typical processing time for a work permit application was 90 days, but a growing backlog has caused additional delays. You can check the most current processing times, updated monthly, on the USCIS website.)

Keep in mind that you cannot submit a work permit application until you’ve filed the green card application (Form I-485). Relatives of green card holders must wait for a visa number before filing the I-485. Relatives of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for a visa number and can file their work permit applications with the initial application package containing the I-485.

Can my U.S. citizen family member file a work permit application on my behalf?

No. Your relative may not file a work permit application on your behalf. You, the family member seeking the green card, must sign the work permit application (Form I-765) yourself.

What documents do I need to submit with my work permit application?

Several travel documents are needed to apply for a work permit. The most important of these include your I-94 travel record (if available) and previous work permits (if any). Additional identification documents are required if you haven’t previously been issued a work permit. Our detailed guide on the work permit includes a full list of the required documents.

How much does it cost to apply for a work permit?

There is currently no cost to obtain a work permit whether you submit your application before or after filing your family-based green card application (Form I-485).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although there is currently no cost to file for a work permit as part of a green card application, this could change in the coming months. In January 2023, USCIS proposed a new fee structure, which would include separate fees for the optional work and travel permit forms filed as part of the adjustment of status application. To learn more about what costs you can expect, see Boundless’ USCIS fees guide.

Working in the United States

What kind of jobs can I accept if my work permit is approved?

The work permit that’s tied to a family-based green card application does not restrict the type of employment that’s allowed. With this work permit, you may accept any employment that is otherwise legal.

How many hours can I work if my work permit is approved?

You may work as much as you’d like — either part-time or full-time — with a work permit that’s associated with a family-based green card application. There are no restrictions on the number of hours you can work.

What happens to my work permit after my green card application is approved?

Once USCIS approves your green card application, your work permit will automatically terminate. As a permanent resident, you will no longer need a separate work permit. You will be authorized to work in the United States even before your physical green card arrives.

Working While Abroad

Can I apply for my green card and a U.S. work permit while in my home country?

You may apply for a green card, but not for a U.S. work permit, while living abroad. Work permits are available only to relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders who file their green card application from within the United States.

If you are living abroad, you may work in the United States only after the green card application process is complete.

Can I apply for my green card and my work permit from the United States, and then return to my home country to work while I wait?

First of all, you must apply and be approved for a travel permit (officially called an “Advance Parole Travel Document”) before you can leave the United States while your green card application is pending. If you leave the United States before your travel permit application is approved, USCIS will consider your green card application “abandoned.”

Only once your travel permit is approved can you return to your home country and work. By the time your travel permit is approved, however, you will be able to choose between staying in the United States to work (using an approved work permit) or to travel and work abroad. Both the work permit and travel permit applications generally take about five months (up to seven months, in some cases) to process.

These applications are part of the same filing package as the green card application if you’re the relative of a U.S. citizen. If you’re the relative of a green card holder, you’ll need to wait until you’ve filed the green card application before you can submit your work and travel permit applications (see above for more details).