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Work permit for immigrants in the US: What you need to know

Noncitizens can obtain an Employment Authorization Document depending on their immigration status and other factors

Permiso de trabajo para inmigrantes en Estados Unidos
Migrants in Washington protest for work permits, in Washington D. C., in November 2023.Jose Luis Magana (AP)

The Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also known as Form I-766, is a crucial document issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows individuals to work legally within the United States for a specified period. It serves as proof to employers that the holder is authorized to work, irrespective of their citizenship or national origin. Obtaining an EAD involves submitting Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to USCIS, along with supporting documentation demonstrating the individual’s eligibility based on their immigration status or specific circumstances.

Eligibility for an EAD includes individuals who are authorized to work in the U.S. due to their immigration status, such as asylees, refugees, or certain nonimmigrant visa holders, as well as those required to seek permission to work, such as applicants with pending adjustment of status or asylum applications. However, certain categories, such as lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and some nonimmigrant visa holders with employment-authorized visas, are exempt from needing an EAD. Instead, they can use their Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) or their visa documentation as evidence of their employment authorization.

The EAD specifies the period during which the individual is authorized to work in the U.S., typically ranging from one to two years depending on the individual’s circumstances and USCIS discretion. Renewal of the EAD may be necessary before its expiration to maintain continuous work authorization, requiring individuals to file renewal applications similarly to initial applications. Employers in the United States are mandated to verify the authenticity of an employee’s EAD as part of the employment eligibility verification process outlined in Form I-9, ensuring compliance with immigration laws and facilitating legal employment for authorized individuals.

How to get a work permit in the U.S. being an immigrant?

First, immigrants need to determine if they are eligible to apply for a work permit. This can depend on several factors such as their immigration status, pending immigration applications or petitions, humanitarian parole, asylum or refugee status, and others.

Those eligible must complete and submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), with their personal information, details about their immigration status and reasons for seeking employment authorization.

Depending on their status, applicants typically need to submit Form I-765 along with supporting documents to prove their eligibility, which could be copies of immigration documents, identity documents, and other types of evidence. Applicants are also required to pay a filing fee (unless they qualify for a fee waiver). Current fees can be found on the USCIS website.

Applicants can send their form and documents either by mail or electronically, depending on the instructions provided by USCIS based on their status.

Once received, applicants are scheduled for a biometrics appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC), where fingerprints, photographs and signatures are taken for identity verification purposes.

When the application is approved, USCIS will issue the Employment Authorization Document, which will serve as official documentation allowing the immigrant to work legally in the United States.

How long does it take?

Processing times can vary depending on several factors such as the individual’s case, the USCIS workload and the applications volume. Applicants can check the USCIS website for current estimates. After approval, the EAD card should be delivered within one to two weeks, and it would be mailed via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail.

Renewal

Work permits have expiration dates. If the immigrant needs to continue working in the United States, they must file a renewal application with USCIS in advance to the expiration date to avoid interruptions in employment authorization.

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