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How to Apply for a U.S. Work Permit

The process for accessing a U.S. work permit, which is also known as an employment authorization document (EAD) is fairly straightforward. You need to fill out a one-page form, attach the fee, photos, and documents proving you’re eligible, and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Who Is Eligible for a U.S. Work Permit (EAD)?

A work permit is usually available to immigrants who are in the process of applying for a green card; adjustment of status or sometimes to immigrants with temporary right to be in the United States.

EADs are available for example to:

  • people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED),
  • K-1 fiancé visa holders,
  • spouses of various visa holders,
  • F-1 students experiencing economic hardship or seeking optional practical training (OPT),
  • asylees and so on.

Note that applying for a work permit and applying for a work visa to the United States are two completely different things. The latter is a much more complicated process. And a work permit is also very different from a U.S. green card which allows a person permanent residence in the United States.

How Do I Fill Out USCIS Form I-765 for a Work Permit?

The form you will use to apply for a work permit, Form I-765, is available for free download on the USCIS website.

The form is basically self-explanatory. You’ll fill in your name, contact information, and so on. On Question 22, they really do want your most recent entry into the U.S., even if you had been living here for a while and merely took a short trip abroad. “Manner of entry” asks about the type of visa you used to come in on.

Question 27 will probably require the most effort. You’ll need to look at the I-765 instructions (also on the USCIS website) to find out which eligibility category you’re in.

For example, some of the most common categories include category (a)(5) for someone granted asylum, (a)(12) for people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), (c)(3)(C) for students doing post-completion optional practical training, (c)(5) for J-2 spouses of a J-1 exchange visitor, and (c)(9) for anyone with a pending adjustment of status (green card) application.

If your category has only two letters or numbers (such as (c)(9)), don’t worry about the fact that there are three spaces on the form (formed by the parentheses). Just put the “c” in the second set of parentheses and the “9” in the third.

What Proof of Eligibility for a Work Permit Do I Also Need to Submit?

To prove that you qualify for a work permit, you’ll need to make a photocopy of whatever shows the status that you described in Question 29. For example, if you applied as an asylee, attach a copy of the asylum office letter or judge’s order granting you asylum. The instructions to Form I-765 detail which documents you need to submit.

Note, however, that if you are applying for the work permit at the very same time as you apply for the status that will give you the right to a work permit, such as for adjustment of status or TPS, you don’t need to include proof of eligibility. USCIS will figure out you’re eligible from the application you submitted.

How Do I Pay the EAD Fee?

The fee amount is $410 as of late 2021. But USCIS fee amounts go up frequently, so double check the website for the latest. If you are requesting deferred action, you must also pay an $85 biometrics fee.

Also realize that some categories of applicants do not need to pay the I-765 application fee, such as those simultaneously filing to adjust status to get a green card (they are covered by their I-485 fee); check the instructions for Form I-765 to see if you’re among them.

You will pay by either money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or by credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

How Do I Submit the EAD Application to USCIS?

Most applicants are to submit the I-765 application by mail to USCIS. Observe the website carefully for which address to use. It is different for people using a package or courier service and those using U.S. mail,  and is based on your category of eligibility.

In a few categories, online filing is also an option, by creating an account with USCIS. This option became available to F-1 students filing based on optional practical training (OPT) in mid-2021, and could expand to other categories.

Make a complete copy of everything in your submission packet, even the checks, before sending it.

If you are in the United States in a lawful nonimmigrant status that does not provide employment authorization, you generally may apply for:

  • A change of status to a nonimmigrant classification that provides employment authorization; or
  • An adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. This may be a concurrent filing with an immigrant visa petition or, depending on the circumstances, may require an applicant to obtain an approved immigrant visa before applying for an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident.

Depending on the classification you seek, your change or adjustment of status application might require a U.S. employer or other qualified requestor to file an application or petition on your behalf to establish your eligibility before we approve your application. However, if you apply based on certain classifications (for example, an alien with extraordinary ability or as a nonimmigrant E-1 or E-2 principal treaty trader or investor), you may be eligible to self-petition, which means filing an application on your own behalf.

Additionally, if you are in the United States, including if you are an applicant for permanent residence or a certain family member of an alien who has lawful nonimmigrant status, you may file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to request employment authorization and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You may also apply for an EAD that shows such authorization if your immigration status authorizes you to work in the United States without restrictions.

The conditions you must meet and how long you can work in the United States depend on the type of immigration status the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants. You must comply with all conditions of your employment authorization and the terms of your admission to this country. If you violate any of the conditions, you could be removed from or denied re-entry into the United States.

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