Foreign nationals living in the United States cannot work unless they have received explicit permission under the terms of their visa or other status, or have separately qualified, applied for, and received a work permit.

A work permit is a photo identity card issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is also called an Employment Authorization Document or EAD.

The EAD looks a lot like a driver’s license. Its holders can show it to employers in order to prove their right to work. All U.S. employers must, when hiring a new employee, request proof of their immigration status or right to work—employers who violate this rule can face sanctions

But, if you are an emigrant, who lives in United States, what do you need to have to work legally? This is one of the most important questions that anyone, interested in this topic should know.

And yes, of course, all green card holders (lawful permanent or conditional residents) automatically have permission to work in the United States. They simply need to show their green card to employers.

Immigrants who go on to become U.S. citizens can, of course, work, and will be able to show their U.S. passport or naturalization certificate to employers.

Foreign nationals who have obtained work-based visas that have been sponsored by U.S. employers are also eligible to work in the United States. For example, such visas include an H-1B (for specialty workers), an L-1 visa (for intercompany transferees), an E-3 visa (only for Australians), and an E treaty trader or treaty investor visa (for employees of companies registered as treaty traders or treaty investors in the United States).

Who Is Eligible to Apply for a Work Permit?

There are numerous classes of other people who can (and must, if they wish to accept employment) apply for a special “work permit” from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They must submit their application before they start working.

The categories include things like K-1 fiance visa holders, asylees, people with a pending application for adjustment of status (a green card) spouses of various visa holders, people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), F-1 students experiencing economic hardship or seeking optional practical training (OPT), and so on.

The categories are too many to list here—you can find a full list of them in the instructions that go with USCIS Form I-765 (the work permit application form).

Notice, however, that there is no category for tourists (B-1 visa holders) or undocumented immigrants. USCIS will not grant these people permission to work in the United States, and indeed for them to do so (or for employers to hire them) is illegal.

The following documents are needed if you or someone you know and want to help, is applying to a work permit:

  • Copy of your I-94 travel record (front and back), if available, or a printout of your electronic I-94 obtained from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Copy of your U.S. visa (a document placed in your passport)
  • Copy of your passport photo page
  • Copies of previous work permits (front and back), if any
  • Two 2-inch-by-2-inch passport-style photos of yourself taken recently (print your full name and Alien Registration Number on the back of each with a pencil or felt-tip pen)
  • Copy of receipt notice (official acknowledgment letter) from USCIS that your marriage-based green card application (Form I-485) is pending, but only if:
  • 1. You’re married to a green card holder
  • 2. You’re married to a U.S. citizen and applying for a work permit after submitting your green card application (which would be unusual)

If you have not been issued a work permit before, you must also submit a copy of one of the following forms of government-issued identification:

  • Birth certificate and a photo ID
  • Copy of a visa (a document placed in your passport) that was issued by the consulate of a country other than the United States
  • Other national identity document with your photo and/or fingerprint.3

If you have any questions about whether you are eligibility for a work permit, or you want help with the application process, our recommendation always is to consult an immigration attorney.

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