Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals come into the United States, some enter with documents and some without. Those that intend to stay, sooner or later find themselves short of cash and needing employment. But one does not simply find a job in the United States. To legally work in the United States the government requires every citizen and noncitizen to have the necessary documents before they begin working.

So who is eligible to work?

Naturally, U.S. citizens are eligible to work in the United States and can meet the documentation requirement by showing proof of their U.S. citizenship and a valid identity document. However, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you may fall into one of three categories there are eligible to work.

  • Category 1: Noncitizens who may be authorized to work in the United States because of their immigration status.
  • Category 2: Noncitizens who may be authorized to work for a specific employer as a result of their nonimmigrant status.
  • Category 3: Noncitizens who may be in an immigration category that requires them to request work authorization.

Noncitizens who do not have the luxury of being born or naturalized in the United States will require a different set documentation.

Category 1 – noncitizens who may be authorized to work because of their immigration status.

  • Lawful permanent residents can meet this requirement by showing their Permanent Resident Card (Green Card).
  • Refugees who are eligible to work and meet this requirement by showing their Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, which has a red stamp indicating employment is authorized.
  • Asylum seekers and Asylees (people granted asylum in the United States) can meet this requirement by presenting an unrestricted Social Security card, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and/or Form I-94 that has a red stamp indicating employment is authorized.

Category 2 – Noncitizens who are authorized to work for a specific employer as a result of their nonimmigrant status.

  • Certain nonimmigrant visa holders who are eligible to work for a specific employer can show their Form I-94 Arrival-Departure record with their nonimmigrant visa.

Category 3 – Noncitizens who are in an immigration category that requires them to request a work authorization.

  • Most others will need to request employment authorization, or evidence of employment authorization incident to status, and receive an EAD as proof of their employment authorization before they may work in the United States.

According to the 2018 USCIS Statistical Annual Report, in 2018 USCIS processed 577,200 Form I-129, Petition for a nonimmigrant worker, petitions. Nonimmigrant workers are those who are here on H-1B, H-1B2, H-1B3, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L-1, Os, Ps, Qs, Rs Visas and in special circumstances Es, H-1B1, and TN Visas. In 2018 USCIS also processed 1,780 I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. Foreign nationals filing out the Form I-765 include refugees/Asylees/Asylum seekers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or DACA recipients, foreign students and vocational students, and persons possessing certain humanitarian visas, and many others.

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So why does this matter? An EAD allows a noncitizen living in the United States a chance to work legally. That opens up for opportunities for employment beyond that of working for cash under-the-table which can lead to the noncitizen being taken advantage of and if discovered by USCIS could lead to future bars to relief and pathways to naturalization as well as other consequences of working undocumented.

So it’s important, but how do you apply for a work permit?

The I-129 petition is typically for individuals with a company sponsorship and the paperwork is usually taken care of by the company’s attorney.

The Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, can be found on the USCIS website.

  • Download and review the instructions for Form I-765 and complete the form itself.
  • After the form is completed, review the form and submit the filing fee, form, and supporting evidence to USCIS.
    • As of the writing of this blog, the filing fee for the I-765 is $410 and an additional $85 for biometrics. The fees are nonrefundable.
  • Be sure to double check the form before submitting it as any errors on the form may reflect on the EAD card and USCIS will not fix any errors that they did not make. Errors on the EAD card may lead to a refiling of the form along with resubmission of the filing fees. Errors on the EAD may invalidate the EAD card.

Applying to work in the United States can be complex and confusing at times, depending on your immigration status. If you have questions or concerns about applying for or renewing an EAD please consult one of our immigration attorneys. Mention that you made it to the end of this blog post and get 50% off your EAD-related consultation fee.