If you’re an immigrant seeking to work legally in the US, navigating the world of work authorization can be daunting. Whether you’re a recent graduate, a skilled professional, or a foreign investor, receiving a work permit is often the first milestone to building a successful career.

Here’s what you need to know about work authorization, the available types, and how to apply.

How Do You Obtain Work Authorization in the U.S.?

Obtaining work authorization ensures legal employment, protects your rights as an employee, broadens career opportunities, and brings peace of mind – all essential for building a successful and secure future in the United States. But before you apply, there are a few things you need to know about the process.

Who Is Eligible for a Work Permit in the U.S.?

The good news is there are various pathways to work authorization in the US. Eligible individuals include:

  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders)
  • Victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, or other crimes
  • Individuals with certain non-immigrant visas, like those for spouses of US citizens or treaty traders/investors
  • Professionals with such as athletes, artists, scientists
  • Exchange visitors in certain programs may be authorized to work with an employer’s sponsorship.
  • DACA recipients

If you have a pending permanent residency or asylum application, you may be eligible to apply for work authorization while your application is processed.

What Happens if You Work without Authorization?

Working unauthorized is a risky gamble. It exposes you to fines, potential detention, and deportation, making it difficult to return to the US legally. It can also jeopardize your opportunity to obtain lawful status or apply for permanent residency, making it difficult to obtain visas or other benefits in the future. Without authorization, you’re more vulnerable to exploitation and limited in career options.

Common U.S. Work Authorization Documents

Once you’ve determined your eligibility for work authorization, the next step is understanding the documents that prove your legal right to work. While the specific requirements can vary, some of the most common required documents include:

  • Permanent Resident Card (Green Card): A green card signifies lawful permanent residency and automatically grants work authorization.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD): This card is issued by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to non-citizens with temporary authorization to work.
  • Foreign Passport with Temporary I-551 Stamp: For non-immigrants with specific visa statuses, a temporary stamp in their passport can serve as work authorization.

Your employer is required to verify your work authorization by requesting proof and completing an I-9 Form to document the type of work authorization you received.

How to Apply for Work Authorization in the U.S.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to submit your application for work authorization:

1. Determine Your Eligibility

As mentioned earlier, there are various pathways to work authorization. Carefully review the eligibility criteria for each category (permanent residents, temporary workers, etc.) to identify the one that aligns with your situation.

2. Gather Supporting Documents

The documents you need will depend on your specific category. Generally, they include proof of your immigration status, identity documents such as your passport, and potentially additional documents specific to your situation (for example, an employer sponsorship letter or proof of qualifications).

3. Complete Form I-765

Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, is one of the most crucial parts of your application. Fill out Form I-765 wholly and accurately, following the instructions provided by USCIS. Be sure to provide all required information, including personal details, immigration status information, and employment eligibility category.

The standard filing fee is currently $410, but be sure to check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date amount as fees can change. There’s an additional $85 biometrics fee for certain categories, such as DACA recipients.

There are exceptions to the filing fee in some situations. For example, you won’t need to pay if you’re applying for a green card or your initial asylum work permit. The instructions for Form I-765 detail all the fee waiver situations. USCIS accepts various payment methods, including money orders, checks, and credit cards (at certain lockbox locations, not service centers).

4. Submit Your Application and Pay the Filing Fee

Once you’ve filled out Form I-765, gathered your supporting documents, and paid the required filing fee, it’s time to send your work permit application to USCIS.

While some exceptions exist, most immigrants cannot file Form I-765 online. Therefore, if you’re submitting it alongside an immigration status application (e.g., a green card), you’ll likely need to mail the entire application. The specific mailing address depends on various factors such as your location, intended visa interview location, purpose for filing Form I-765, and preferred mail carrier. Review the USCIS website thoroughly for the correct mailing address to ensure prompt delivery of your application.

5. Wait for Processing and Biometrics

USCIS will process your application, which may involve requesting additional information or scheduling a biometric appointment for fingerprints. You can check the case processing time for your form and field office or service center on the USCIS website.

Ready to Apply for Work Authorization? Call American Immigration Law Help Today

Navigating the process of obtaining work authorization in the United States can be complex, and each step requires attention to detail and compliance with immigration laws and regulations. That’s why it’s advisable to work with an experienced immigration attorney who can assess your situation, identify the best path, ensure a complete application, and streamline the process so you can receive your work authorization sooner.

Call American Immigration Law Help today at 314-416-8000 or contact us to schedule a consultation.