How to Get Work Authorization in the U.S.

by | Feb 22, 2024

Navigating the complexities of obtaining legal work authorization in the United States can be daunting. Whether you’re an immigrant seeking employment opportunities or an employer looking to hire foreign nationals, understanding the process is crucial. This guide aims to simplify the procedure, offering step-by-step advice on how to secure work authorization legally.


Understanding U.S. Work Authorization Basics

Work authorization allows non-U.S. citizens to work legally in the United States. The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a common form, though various visa categories also provide work rights.

Eligibility varies by visa type and individual circumstances. For example, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, and specific visa holders may apply for an EAD. Understanding your specific eligibility criteria is the first step in the application process.


Visa Categories with Work Authorization

In the United States, several visa categories include work authorization, either as a primary feature of the visa or through the potential to apply for work permission. Here’s an overview of some key visa categories that allow for work authorization:

Employment-Based Visas

  • H-1B Visa: For workers in specialty occupations requiring a higher education degree.
  • L-1 Visa: For intra-company transferees who work in managerial positions or have specialized knowledge.
  • O-1 Visa: For individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
  • E-1 and E-2 Visas: For traders and investors from countries with which the United States maintains treaties of commerce and navigation.
  • E-3 Visa: Similar to the H-1B but specifically for Australian nationals coming to the U.S. to work in specialty occupations.

Family-Based Visas

  • K-1 Visa: Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen. The holder must marry the U.S. citizen sponsor within 90 days of entry and can then apply for an adjustment of status to permanent resident and work authorization.
  • Spouses of U.S. Citizens (IR1, CR1): Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including spouses, can work with the appropriate documentation.

Other Visa Categories

  • F-1 Visa: International students can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to work in their field of study.
  • J-1 Visa: Exchange visitors can work in the U.S. under certain conditions and with authorization as part of their exchange program.
  • TN Visa: For Canadian and Mexican citizens engaging in professional business activities under the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Special Cases and Programs

  • DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): Recipients can apply for work authorization despite not having a visa status.
  • TPS (Temporary Protected Status): Beneficiaries from designated countries facing conditions that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely can apply for work authorization.
  • Asylum Seekers and Refugees: Individuals granted asylum or refugee status are eligible to apply for work authorization.

It’s important to note that the eligibility for work authorization and the application process can vary significantly across these categories. Additionally, some visas require sponsorship by a U.S. employer, while others may allow self-petitioning or are based on personal circumstances, such as family relationships or humanitarian protections. Always consult with an immigration attorney or a reputable source for the most current information and guidance tailored to your specific situation.



USCIS Form I765

What is Form I 765?

Form I-765 is an Application for Employment Authorization. It is used by certain foreign nationals in the United States to request an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and employment authorization.

Form I-765 has six parts, each with different information. Part 1 asks for the reason for applying for a work permit. The form also asks for the applicant’s eligibility category.

The filing fee for Form I-765 is typically $410, but the cost of a work permit depends on several factors.

After USCIS receives Form I-765, the applicant should receive a receipt notice. The notice will confirm that USCIS received the document, but it will not provide any further information. The applicant will also receive a biometric services notice that includes the date, time, and location for their appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC).

After approval, the EAD card should be produced within one to two weeks. The EAD card will be mailed via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail.

If the work permit has expired or will expire within the next six months, it can be renewed by filing a new Form I-765. A filing fee will need to be paid, unless the applicant has applied for a fee waiver and has received approval.

Form I-765 is available to download on the USCIS website. 


Navigating the USCIS for Work Authorization

Navigating the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for work authorization can be a daunting task, given the complexity of immigration laws and the meticulousness required in application processes. However, with careful preparation and strategic planning, applicants can enhance their chances of a smooth experience. Here are some tips for effectively navigating the USCIS for work authorization:

1. Understand Your Visa Category

  • Research Thoroughly: Know the specifics of your visa category, including eligibility criteria, limitations, and the documentation required for your application.

2. Prepare Your Application Carefully

  • Gather Documentation Early: Collect all necessary documents before starting your application. This includes proof of eligibility, identity, and any other required information specific to your visa category.
  • Follow Instructions Precisely: USCIS forms come with detailed instructions. Follow them carefully to avoid delays or rejections.

3. Use Online Resources

  • USCIS Website: The USCIS website is a treasure trove of information, offering guides, forms, and the latest updates on immigration policies.
  • Case Status Online: Utilize the USCIS’s online portal to check the status of your application and receive updates.

4. Timely Submission and Renewal

  • Apply Early: Submit your application as early as possible within the allowed time frame to avoid any potential delays that could affect your employment.
  • Renewal Applications: For those already holding work authorization, remember to apply for renewal well before your current authorization expires to avoid gaps in your employment eligibility.

5. Stay Informed on Policy Changes

  • Keep Updated: Immigration laws and policies can change. Stay informed about any new regulations or procedures that might affect your application.

6. Seek Legal Assistance When Necessary

  • Consult an Immigration Attorney: If your case is complex or if you encounter difficulties, consulting with an immigration attorney can provide personalized guidance and help navigate challenges.

7. Be Proactive About Delays

  • Follow Up: If your case is taking longer than the published processing times, you can inquire about its status through the USCIS Contact Center or by requesting a case assistance with the USCIS Ombudsman.

8. Organize and Keep Copies

  • Document Everything: Keep copies of all documents submitted to USCIS, as well as any correspondence received, in case you need to reference them or submit additional evidence.

9. Utilize USCIS Customer Service

  • Customer Support: For general questions, the USCIS Contact Center can be a helpful resource. They may not be able to provide specific case advice but can offer general guidance.

10. Patience and Persistence

  • Stay Patient: Processing times can vary widely based on visa category, application volume, and individual circumstances. Patience is key, but so is persistence in following up and ensuring your application is on track.

Navigating the USCIS successfully requires an understanding of the process, attention to detail, and sometimes, a bit of patience. By preparing thoroughly and taking advantage of available resources, applicants can improve their experience with obtaining work authorization in the U.S.


Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Getting permission to work in the United States can be tricky. There are a lot of steps and sometimes it feels like a big puzzle. But don’t worry! Here are some common bumps in the road and how to smooth them out:

Making Sense of the Forms

Sometimes, the forms you need to fill out can be confusing. They ask for a lot of information and it’s important to get it right. What to do? Read the instructions carefully and ask for help if you need it. There are people who know all about these forms and can make sure you fill them out correctly.

Waiting for a Long Time

It can take a while to hear back about your application. This wait can be hard, especially if you’re excited to start working. What to do? Apply as soon as you can and keep an eye on your application online. If there’s a way to make the process go faster, the people in charge will let you know.

Needing More Information

Sometimes, after you send in your application, you might be asked for more information. This is called a Request for Evidence (RFE). What to do? Make sure to send in all the information they ask for as soon as possible. This helps keep things moving.

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

If your application gets denied, it can be disappointing. What to do? It’s important to understand why it was denied. You might be able to fix the problem and try again. Sometimes, talking to a lawyer who knows a lot about work permissions can help.

Rules Keep Changing

The rules about who can work in the U.S. can change. What to do? Try to stay up to date with the latest news. Websites, blogs, and lawyers can have a lot of useful information.

Keeping Your Status

While you’re waiting to hear back about your work permission, you need to make sure you’re still allowed to be in the U.S. What to do? If you need to, ask for more time to stay while your application is being looked at.

Waiting Can Be Hard

If it takes a long time to get your work permission, you might not be able to work for a while. What to do? It’s a good idea to save some money just in case. You can also use the time to learn new things that might help you get a job later.

Remember the Dates

If you already have permission to work but it’s going to expire, you need to ask for a new one before the old one runs out. What to do? Mark the date on a calendar and ask for a new permission a few months before the old one expires.

Figuring Out the System

The system for applying can be hard to understand. What to do? Use the website to learn more and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If it’s really hard, a lawyer can help explain things.

Language Problems

If English isn’t your first language, filling out forms and understanding the process can be extra tough. What to do? Look for help in your language. There are groups that can help you understand everything you need to know.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. There are lots of people who want to help you succeed!


Renewing Your Work Authorization

Renewing your U.S. work authorization is an important step to ensure you can continue working legally in the country. Here’s how and when you should do it, explained simply:

When to Renew Your Work Authorization

  • Start Early: You should start the renewal process about 4 to 6 months before your current work permit (also known as an Employment Authorization Document or EAD) expires. This gives you enough time to get your new permit before the old one runs out.
  • Check the Date: Look at the expiration date on your current work permit. Mark this date on a calendar or somewhere you won’t forget. This way, you won’t start too late.

How to Renew Your Work Authorization

  1. Fill Out the Form: The form you need is called Form I-765, which is the same form you used to apply the first time. You can find it on the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) website.
  2. Gather Your Documents: You’ll need a few things to send with your form, like a copy of your current work permit and any other documents that show you’re still eligible for work authorization.
  3. Pay the Fee: There’s usually a fee to renew your work permit. Check the USCIS website to find out how much it is and how you can pay it.
  4. Send Your Application: Once you have everything ready, send your application to the address given by USCIS. Make sure to send it early enough so it arrives before your current permit expires.
  5. Wait for Your New Permit: After you send in your application, there will be a waiting period. You can check the status of your application online on the USCIS website.

Tips for a Smooth Renewal

  • Stay Informed: Rules and fees can change. Always check the USCIS website for the most current information before you start your renewal.
  • Keep Copies: Make copies of everything you send to USCIS, just in case they ask for something again or there’s a problem.
  • Ask for Help: If you’re not sure about something, it’s okay to ask for help. There are lawyers and organizations that help people with their immigration questions.

Renewing your work authorization on time is super important to make sure you can keep working without any breaks. By starting early and following these steps, you can make the process go smoothly.


Work Authorization for Dependents

In the United States, when grown-ups come to work from other countries, sometimes the people in their family, like their husband or wife and kids, can come with them. These family members are called “dependents.” Dependents can also get permission to work in the U.S., but there are special rules for how this works.

Who Are Dependents?

Dependents are usually the husband or wife and children of the person who comes to the U.S. for a job. These family members can get a special kind of permission that lets them stay in the U.S. too.

How Can Dependents Work?

  1. Get the Right Visa: First, the dependent needs to have the right kind of visa. This depends on the visa of the person who came to work. For example, if a mom or dad has an H-1B visa (a common work visa), their husband, wife, or kids might get an H-4 visa.
  2. Apply for Work Permission: Just having a visa doesn’t always mean you can work. Sometimes, the husband, wife, or kids need to ask for permission. This means filling out a form (it’s called Form I-765) and sending it to a place called USCIS. That’s short for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They’re the ones who decide if you can work or not.
  3. Wait for Approval: After the form is sent, they have to wait for a little while. USCIS will look at the form and decide if the dependent can work. If they say yes, the dependent gets a card called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This card lets them get a job just like anyone else in the U.S.

Things to Remember

  • Not Everyone Can Work: Sometimes, the rules say that certain dependents can’t work. It depends on the type of visa the working family member has.
  • Renew When Needed: If a dependent gets permission to work, they need to remember that this permission doesn’t last forever. They have to fill out the forms again and ask for permission if they want to keep working after their card expires.

Getting work permission for dependents can help the whole family. While the grown-ups work, the other family members can also find jobs, go to school, or do other things that make living in the U.S. a good experience. Remember, it’s important to follow all the rules and fill out all the forms correctly so everyone can do what they need to do in the U.S.


Get Help with Work Authorization from an Immigration Attorney

Understanding and correctly navigating the work authorization process is essential for legal employment in the U.S. While challenges may arise, proper preparation and knowledge can greatly simplify the process. For personalized advice and assistance, consider reaching out to professional legal services.

Remember, the info provided above is just a starting point. Each individual’s situation is unique, and laws and procedures frequently change. Always consult with an immigration attorney for the most current advice and personalized guidance. The team at North County Immigration is standing by and ready to help. Contact us today!

By Anna M. Hysell

Ms. Hysell is the founding and managing attorney of North County Immigration. After graduating from law school at the University of Wisconsin and getting several years of experience, Ms. Hysell returned to her native Southern California to open an office in North San Diego County to serve clients from the Bay Area to the Mexican Border. She frequently speaks at law conferences, law schools, and workshops providing training to other lawyers. Ms. Hysell is committed to representing individuals with the resolve, compassion, ethics, and values she believes everyone deserves.