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How to Apply for a Work Permit in the U.S.

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Immigrants come to the U.S. through many pathways. Although some pathways authorize immigrants to work, some do not. Others only authorize immigrants to work if they first apply for a work permit. Being unable to work can leave you unable to support yourself as you start building your new life in the U.S.

If you are a noncitizen who needs help figuring out whether you qualify for a work permit or guidance on how to apply for a work permit in the USA, the Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh can help. We understand that coming to a new country is challenging, no matter your reasons, and not being able to earn a paycheck makes it even harder. Our immigration lawyers are here to help.

What Is a Work Permit?

In immigration law, a work permit is commonly called an employment authorization document (EAD). Note that if you came to the U.S. on a work visa or have a green card, you are already authorized to work as long as that status remains valid.

You might be wondering where to apply for a work permit. You can apply for an EAD by submitting Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) online or by mail. 

Who Qualifies for a Work Permit?

Only those already in the U.S. should use Form I-765 to apply for an EAD. Noncitizens with pending adjustment of status applications are one of the largest groups who can request work permits. In other words, if your next step in the immigration process is to apply for a green card, you can request an EAD when you apply for your green card.

Noncitizens with humanitarian statuses can also use Form I-765 to request an EAD, including, among other statuses, noncitizens with:

In limited circumstances, other noncitizens can apply for an EAD as well. If you are unsure whether you can apply for a work permit, consult an immigration attorney.

When to Apply for a Work Permit

Different statuses involve different application timelines. Sometimes, you submit your I-765 with other applications, but sometimes you submit it by itself.

Applying While Your Adjustment of Status Application Is Pending

There are several different ways to get a green card in the U.S., including family-based, employment-based, diversity lottery, and humanitarian applications. The process may involve submitting:

  • Form I-130—Petition for Alien Relative;
  • Form I-140—Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker;
  • Form I-730—Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition;
  • Form I-589—Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal;
  • Form I-360—Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant;
  • Form I-526—Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur;
  • Form I-918—Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status; or
  • Form I-929—Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant.

If one of the above forms has been approved and you are in the U.S., you can apply for a green card.

Adjusting Your Status

If the USCIS approves one of the above forms, you can apply for your green card using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This process is called adjusting your status. 

You can request a work permit while your green card application is pending. In other words, you can submit Forms I-765 and I-485 together.

When you should submit Form I-485 generally depends on whether a visa is available according to the Visa Bulletin. If a visa is available, you can submit Form I-485 together with your underlying petition. If a visa is not currently available, you must wait until your underlying application is approved and a visa becomes available before submitting Form I-485. 

For example, if you are applying for a work permit after marriage to a U.S. citizen, your spouse must submit Form I-130 on your behalf. When your spouse submits this form, you can also submit Forms I-485 and I-765 at the same time.

However, if you are applying for a work permit after getting a job offer in the U.S., your employer will generally need to submit a Form I-140 on your behalf. After your Form I-140 is approved, you usually have to monitor the Visa Bulletin to determine when a visa is available. Once a visa is available, you can submit Forms I-485 and I-765.

Applying for a Work Permit Based on Another Status

Applying for a work permit based on another status follows the same general process. You can typically submit Form I-765 along with your initial application if there are no numerical limitations on how many noncitizens can receive that status. If there are limits, you generally must wait for your application to be approved before you submit Form I-765.

Asylum seekers are an exception to the typical rules. While an asylum seeker’s application is pending, they can request a work permit. 

But when can asylum seekers apply for a work permit? You cannot apply for a work permit at the same time you apply for asylum. However, as long as you do not delay your case, you can request an EAD 150 days after submitting your asylum application.

Let Us Help

Moving to a new country is stressful, no matter the circumstances. It can be even more difficult if you can not work to support yourself or your family. If you need help applying for a work permit or have other immigration matters to discuss, reach out to the Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh.

Author Photo

Rosina Stambaugh

Rosina C. Stambaugh, founder of The Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh in York, brings a wealth of expertise to immigration law. With a focus on removal defense, Ms. Stambaugh has successfully litigated cases across various Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, offering comprehensive support to clients facing diverse immigration challenges. She also represents individuals and families applying for affirmative benefits with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

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