If you’re like many immigrants who aren’t coming to the U.S. for the sole purpose of working, you’re wondering whether you can find a job in the United States. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question; some immigrants are eligible to work, and some aren’t. It depends on the type of visa you have, as well as a few other factors. This guide explains employment authorization, including which immigrants are allowed to work in the U.S., and how to get an employment authorization document (EAD) from the U.S. government.
What is an Employment Authorization Document?
An employment authorization document is a document that proves that you’re allowed to work in the United States. All U.S. employers are required to ensure that their employees (including U.S. citizens) are authorized to work in the United States. If you’re an immigrant, there’s a good chance that you’ll need an EAD to be able to get a job and work. That’s because many visas don’t automatically allow someone to get a job here; they’re for other purposes, such as school, tourism or exchange programs. (Note that some people, such as those who are in the U.S. on work visas, don’t need EADs; their visas already permit them to work.)
If you have an EAD, your employer can hire you without violating any laws. You won’t be violating any laws, either. If you work in the U.S. without authorization, you could find yourself in serious hot water with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You may even be removed from the country and barred from coming back – so in all cases, if you want to work, you should get an employment authorization document from the U.S. government.
Who Needs an EAD?
The simple answer is that anyone who wants to work in the United States and who isn’t automatically authorized to work here needs an EAD. That includes people with tourist visas, student visas, exchange visitor visas and other types of nonimmigrant (temporary) visas. If you want to work while you’re in the United States on one of these visas, you’ll need to get an EAD.
However, not everyone who wants to work in the United States needs an EAD. These people are already authorized to work in the United States and don’t need an EAD:
- Green card holders (permanent residents)
- Refugees and asylees (but only after you’ve been granted refugee or asylee status – not before)
- Certain nonimmigrant visa holders, such as H-1B, L-1 and E-3 visa holders
If you’re in one of these statuses, you don’t need an EAD to work in the United States.
Employment Authorization Document Eligibility
The process for getting an employment authorization document is different for everyone. That’s because the eligibility requirements for an EAD vary depending on your specific situation.
Generally speaking, to be eligible for an EAD, you must:
- Be in a lawful immigration status
- Have a reason to apply for an EAD (such as wanting to work)
- Meet the specific requirements for your category
- There are many different categories of immigrants who can apply for an EAD, including:
- F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders
- J-2 spouses or children of J-1 visa holders
- L-2 spouses or children of L-1 visa holders
- People with asylum and refugee status
- People with U nonimmigrant status
- Victims of human trafficking (T nonimmigrants)
- Battered spouses, children and parents (VAWA self-petitioners)
- Certain people who have temporary protected (TPS) status
To learn more about the specific requirements for each category, talk to your immigration attorney. She can explain the requirements you must meet and tell you exactly how you need to proceed. Remember: You can’t work in the U.S., even if you’re eligible to apply for an EAD, until you have officially received an employment authorization from the U.S. government.
Green Card Holders Don’t Need Employment Authorization
If you have a green card, you don’t need an EAD to work in the United States. That’s because green card holders are already authorized to work here. You can start working as soon as you receive your green card – you don’t need to wait for USCIS to give you permission.
However, even if you don’t need an EAD, you may still find that there are some benefits to getting one. For example, an EAD can make it easier for your employer to verify that you’re authorized to work in the United States. And if you ever want to travel outside the United States and come back, an EAD can make reentry easier and faster.
How Do You Apply for an Employment Authorization?
If you’re eligible for an employment authorization document, you must apply using USCIS Form I-765. This is the only form that USCIS will accept; the agency won’t process your application without it. Your attorney can submit Form I-765 online or by mail, as well as keep tabs on your application status for you.
Required Documentation for an EAD
When you apply for an EAD, you’ll need to submit several documents along with your application. The specific documents you’ll need depend on your situation, but they may include:
- Proof that you’re in a lawful immigration status
- Proof that you’re eligible for an EAD (such as evidence that you have applied for asylum or have eligibility based on the type of visa you have)
- Proof of your identity
- Two passport-style photos
- The filing fee for Form I-765 (unless you’re eligible for a fee waiver)
Common Questions About EADs
Check out the following sections to get answers to common questions about employment authorization documents. If you don’t see your question here, or if you’re unclear on the answer, please feel free to call our office at 914-481-8822 to schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney. We can give you the legal advice you need on work authorization.
Can You Work While You’re Waiting for Your Green Card?
If you’re waiting for a green card, you might be able to get an EAD that will allow you to work in the United States. In order to qualify, you must meet certain requirements and follow the proper procedures. An immigration attorney can help you determine if you’re eligible for an EAD and guide you through the application process.
Is an EAD the Same Thing as a Green Card?
An employment authorization document is not the same thing as a green card. A green card gives you permanent residence in the United States (and allows you to live and work wherever you want), while an EAD allows you to work here for a limited time. You might be able to get an EAD while you’re waiting for your green card, but you can’t use an EAD to permanently live and work in the United States.
Can You Renew an EAD?
In most cases, you can renew your EAD if it’s about to expire and you’re still eligible to work in the United States. The renewal process is similar to the initial application process; your attorney will need to fill out the appropriate form and provide USCIS with the required documentation.
How Do You Replace an EAD?
If your EAD is lost, stolen or damaged, you can replace it by submitting a new Form I-765 with the required documentation. USCIS recommends that you include a copy of your lost or stolen EAD, if possible. You should also explain what happened to your original EAD and why you’re requesting a replacement.
Related: Sponsoring someone for a green card
How Long Does it Take to Get an Employment Authorization Document?
The amount of time it takes USCIS to process your application for an EAD depends on a number of factors, including the type of visa you have and the current workload at USCIS. The processing time can range from a few weeks to several months. An experienced immigration attorney can help you track the status of your application and ensure that it’s processed in a timely manner.
Is an I-94 an Employment Authorization Document?
An I-94 is not an employment authorization document. An I-94 is an arrival and departure document that’s issued to certain immigrants when they enter the United States. It shows how long they’re allowed to stay in the country. Some people confuse the I-94 with an EAD, but they’re two different documents that serve different purposes.
What is a Derived Visa, and Can I Use it to Get an EAD?
A derived visa is a visa that’s based on your relationship to someone else who has a visa. For example, if your spouse has a work visa, you might be able to get a derived visa that allows you to work in the United States; likewise, if you marry a citizen or lawful permanent resident, your visa may allow you to apply for an EAD. Not all visas are derivative, and not all people who have derived visas are eligible for an EAD. An immigration attorney can help you determine if you’re eligible for a derived visa and an EAD.
Can I Stay in the U.S. if I Have an EAD?
An EAD does not give you the right to live in the United States. It only allows you to work here for a certain period of time. If you want to live in the United States permanently, you’ll need to get a green card.
Do You Need to Talk to an Immigration Attorney About Employment Authorization in the United States?
If you need to talk to an immigration attorney, we may be able to help you. Call our office at 914-481-8822 to schedule a consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable immigration attorney who can answer your questions and give you the legal advice you need.