Updated: January 21, 2020
An Employment Authorization Document (‘EAD’), known popularly as a ‘work permit,’ allows the holder to legally engage in unrestricted employment, including self-employment.
Some non-immigrant visa holders in the US do not need a work permit to work in the US. People who are sponsored for an employment-authorized visa such as an H-1B, I, L-1 or O-1 are granted employment authorization incident to status. Not only do such people not need an EAD, but US Citizenship and Immigration Service regulations (8 CFR Part 274a) provide they will not be given one even if they apply.
There are however more than 40 types of immigration status that make their holders eligible to apply for an EAD. Some are nationality-based and apply to a very small number of people—for example, citizens of the Federal States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands or the Republic of Palau. Others are much broader, such as those covering the spouses of E-1, E-2, E-3 or L-1 visa holders. (Note: Although the Social Security Administration believes that these spouses are authorized to work incident to status, just as the principal applicants are, the SSA’s procedural manual notes that ‘employers may still ask for an EAD before the alien can start working.’) In addition, applicants for adjustment of status (applicants for ‘green cards’) may request an EAD either at the time they file their I-485 ‘Application for Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status’ or thereafter.
How to Apply
The one thing all EAD applicants have in common is the Form I-765 ‘Application for Employment Authorization.’ The filing fee is $410 but it is waived for some applicants, including those people who file the I-765 concurrently with their I-485 green card application. For applicants who also qualify for the travel document known as ‘advance parole,’ a single card will be produced that serves as both an EAD and advance parole.
The lengthy instructions to Form I-765 must be reviewed carefully to ensure that the form is completed accurately, the requisite documents are included, and the application is filed in the correct location. Online filing is permitted in certain cases, although the required supporting documents must be sent in hard-copy form.
A note to E-3 spouses: The Form I-765 does not contain any reference to E-3 spouse status as a basis for obtaining an EAD. Nevertheless, Section 34.6 of the USCIS’s internal Adjudicator’s Field Manual makes it clear that filing the I-765 is the correct route of application for you, along with those persons specifically listed on the form.
This short article does not purport to cover all permutations of this complex issue and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice tailored to the specifics of your situation. If you believe that legal advice would be helpful you should consult a qualified US immigration attorney.