Man applying for work permit on computer

The Different Types Of Work Permits You Can Apply For

In the United States, if you want to work legally as a foreign national, you will need a work permit, also known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and grants the holder the right to work in the country. In this article, we will explore the different types of immigration cases that qualify someone to get a work permit and provide a step-by-step guide on how to apply for one.

Why do you need an EAD?

Whether you are on a specific visa or have completed your studies as an international student, you will still need an EAD to work legally in the United States. For instance, even H1B visa holders with work authorization in the US are required to obtain an EAD. Students in F-1 status who have graduated and are participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT) are similarly affected. So, if you want to explore job opportunities in the US, obtaining an EAD is essential.

It is important to understand that in order to receive an EAD, you have to have an underlying case with immigration. That’s to say, it is not possible to receive an EAD without having some kind of application in process, or approved, for another immigration benefit. 

Types of Work Permits

 Work permit application

Depending on your immigration status and other factors, you may be eligible for a work permit. Let’s explore a few of the most common immigration cases that lead to a work permit:

  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Employment Authorization Document: TPS allows individuals from designated countries facing temporary crises, such as armed conflict or environmental disasters, to legally work in the United States. The EAD granted under TPS is valid for a specific period, usually until the designated country stabilizes.
  • Pending Asylum Case or Granted Asylum: Having an asylum application in process or approved makes the applicant eligible for a work permit.  Someone applies for asylum based on having suffered past persecution, or having a fear of future persecution, in their home country on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
  • Pending Adjustment of Status Application: A foreign national who is eligible for a green card based on their relationship to certain U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members, along with meeting other requirements, can file for a green card (“adjustment of status”) in the United States. A pending adjustment of status case makes the foreign national eligible for a work permit.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) Employment Authorization Document: OPT is available to F-1 students who have completed their studies and wish to gain practical work experience related to their field of study. OPT allows students to work for up to 12 months after completing their program. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 24-month extension.
  • H-1B Specialty Occupation Employment Authorization Document: The H-1B visa is for foreign workers employed in specialized occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. To obtain an H-1B work permit, your employer must sponsor your application and demonstrate that they were unable to find a qualified US worker for the position.
  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee Employment Authorization Document: The L-1 visa is for employees of multinational companies who are being transferred to a US branch, subsidiary, or affiliate. This work permit allows foreign workers to work in the United States temporarily.
  • E-2 Treaty Investor Employment Authorization Document: The E-2 visa is available to individuals from countries that have a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. This visa is for investors or employees of businesses that have made a substantial investment in the US.
  • O-1 Extraordinary Ability Employment Authorization Document: The O-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. This work permit is granted to those who can demonstrate exceptional achievements and recognition in their field.
  • Green Card Employment Authorization Document: A green card, or permanent resident card, allows foreign nationals to live and work permanently in the United States. Once you obtain a green card, you no longer need a separate work permit.

How to Apply for an EAD

Work permit

To apply for an EAD, follow these steps:

Step 1: File Form I-765

The first step is to download and fill out Form I-765 from the USCIS website. This form collects personal information and includes specific questions depending on your situation. Make sure to download the most recent version of the form.

Step 2: Attach Supporting Documents

Your individual circumstances will determine which supporting documents you must submit with your EAD application. For example, if you are applying based on asylum status, you may need to include a copy of your asylum approval notice or asylum application receipt. If you are applying based on a specific visa category, such as the H-1B or L-1 visa, you will need to provide documentation related to your visa status, such as a copy of your visa approval notice or your I-797 approval notice.

It’s essential to carefully review the instructions provided with Form I-765 to ensure you have an immigration case that qualifies you for a work permit and that you include all the necessary supporting documents based on your situation. You also need to make sure that you select the correct category that makes you eligible for work authorization. Failure to provide the required documentation may result in delays or even the rejection of your application. 

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Step 3: Pay the Filing Fee

There is a filing fee associated with the EAD application. The fee amount can change, so it’s crucial to check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date fee information. In certain circumstances, individuals may be eligible for a fee waiver or reduced fee. If you believe you qualify for a fee waiver, you will need to submit Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, along with your EAD application.

Step 4: Submit Your Application

Once you have completed Form I-765, gathered all the required supporting documents, and paid the filing fee, you are ready to submit your application. Make sure to double-check that you have signed the form and included all the necessary materials.

You have the option to submit your EAD application either by mail or online, depending on your eligibility. If you choose to submit it by mail, carefully package all the documents and send them to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facility based on your location. If you are filing online, create an account on the USCIS website, and follow the instructions for submitting your application electronically.

Step 5: Track Your Application

After you have submitted your EAD application, you can track its progress using the USCIS online case status tool. This tool allows you to check the current status of your application and receive updates on any additional action you may need to take.

It’s important to note that processing times for EAD applications can vary, so it’s advisable to submit your application well in advance of when you plan to begin working. USCIS provides estimated processing times on their website, but these are subject to change based on workload and other factors.

Exemptions from Filing Fee

There are several categories of individuals who are exempted from paying the filing fee for an EAD. These exemptions recognize specific circumstances and prioritize providing opportunities for those in need. The following groups may request an exemption from the filing fee:

  • Citizens of Micronesia, Palau, or the Marshall Islands: Individuals hailing from these countries are exempt from the filing fee, reflecting certain agreements and relationships between their respective governments and the United States.
  • Those Granted Withholding of Deportation: Individuals who have been granted withholding of deportation are exempted from the filing fee for their initial work permit. Their special circumstances are recognized and protected by this exemption.
  • Asylees, Refugees, or those Paroled as Refugees: Those who have been granted refugee status or asylum, or who have been granted refugee parole, are exempt from paying the filing fee for their initial work permit. As people who have fled persecution or who are seeking asylum in the United States, they qualify for this exemption.
  • N-8 or N-9 Nonimmigrants: Filing fees are waived for nonimmigrants with N-8 or N-9 visas, which are issued to immediate family members of employees of certain international organizations.
  • U Visa Bona Fide Determination: U visa petitioners who have pending cases that USCIS has determined meet all eligibility requirements will receive a Bona Fide Determination that makes them eligible for a work permit while their case remains pending a final adjudication. 
  • Victims of Severe Forms of Trafficking: People who have been determined to be victims of severe trafficking by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are not required to pay the filing fee. This exemption aims to support and assist individuals who have suffered from human trafficking.
  • VAWA Self-petitioners: Victims of domestic violence who are self-petitioning under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) are exempt from the filing fee. The necessity of aiding victims of domestic violence is recognized by this exemption.
  • U-1 Nonimmigrants: Noncitizens with a U-1 visa, which is issued to crime victims who are helping the authorities, do not have to pay the filing fee. This exemption recognizes the challenges faced by crime victims and encourages their cooperation with authorities.
  • Dependents of international organizations, foreign governments, and NATO personnel: Dependents of individuals working for international organizations, foreign governments, or NATO are exempt from the filing fee. This exemption acknowledges their dependency status and the nature of their parents’ or guardians’ employment.

Fee Waivers for Financial Hardships

In addition to the exemptions mentioned above, USCIS offers fee waivers for individuals experiencing financial hardships. USCIS recognizes that financial constraints should not be a barrier to accessing work permits. If you meet any of the following criteria, you may request a fee waiver:

  • Beneficiary of means-tested benefits: If you are currently receiving means-tested benefits, which are social benefits that consider income or wealth to determine eligibility or benefit amount, you may request a fee waiver. This includes cases where income/wealth determines entitlement or both entitlement and amount.
  • Annual household income below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines: If your annual household income falls below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time of filing, you are eligible to request a fee waiver.
  • Facing financial hardships: If you are undergoing financial hardships and are unable to pay the filing fees, such as unexpected medical bills or emergencies, you may request a fee waiver with evidence of your financial hardships.
  • Beneficiary of certain means-tested programs: If you are receiving benefits from means-tested programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may request a fee waiver.

Fee waiver requests that fail to include supporting documentation from applicants will be denied. USCIS thoroughly examines each request for a fee waiver and strives to ensure that those in need of a work permit are not denied because of their inability to pay the fee.

Navigating the Path to Legally Working in the United States

If you are a foreign national and you want to legally work in the United States, you will need to obtain a work permit or Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Your immigration and eligibility status will determine the type of work permit you need. There are different ways to qualify for a work permit as discussed above. 

Fill out Form I-765, gather your supporting documents, pay the filing fee, and send them all to the USCIS to apply for an EAD. Please read the instructions carefully and include all the information requested. Incomplete applications may be delayed or rejected. You can find out where your application stands and what else you need to do if you use the USCIS online case status tool.

Getting a work permit may seem like a complicated process, but with the right information and assistance, you can complete it without any problems. Gaining legal employment in the United States can pave the way to better pay and more job satisfaction. Contact us at either of our two offices in Oregon or California if you require assistance in securing a work permit.

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