Work Authorization Requirements and Documents

Woman at office desk with American flag and work visa

The United States does not have a simple, universal “work permit” document that is available to all foreign nationals seeking employment within the U.S. Instead, each specific class of foreign national must go through a separate process for obtaining valid work authorization, based on their status. To make matters even more complicated, these requirements frequently change from year to year based on political and economic headwinds. This can be a daunting challenge for you as a foreign national employee, recruiter, or employer. This article gives a brief overview of the work authorization process and documents you will need to lawfully work in the United States.

If you have any questions, the attorneys at The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, Co., LPA have decades of combined experience in successfully navigating through such complex areas. Contact us by email or phone at 1-877-479-4USA (4872) for a consultation to discuss your work authorization and how we can represent your interests effectively.

How Can I Acquire Valid Work Authorization in the United States?

It can be a challenging task to obtain valid work authorization in the U.S., and an equally challenging task to maintain and provide documentary evidence of your valid work authorization.

In general, you may be authorized to work within the U.S. if you fall into one of these three broad categories of foreign nationals: 1) if you are authorized to work incident to your status with no restrictions, 2) if you are authorized to work incident to your status with restrictions, and 3) if you are not authorized to work incident to your status, but are otherwise eligible to work.

How Will an Employer Verify My Valid Work Authorization?

An employer is required to verify your valid work authorization by requesting documentary proof of your work authorization, and by completing an I-9 Form. The employer will record the type of work authorization document that you provide as evidence. There are many procedures and requirements for employers to comply with when hiring a foreign national, so it is very important that you can provide valid documentary evidence of your authorization to work in the U.S.

What are the Most Common Types of Work Authorization Documents?

The most common types of work authorization documents are: Form I-551 Alien Registration Cards (Green Cards), Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record Cards, and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs). These documents can take the form of ID cards, or they may sometimes take the form of stamps inside your passport.

An I-551 “Green Card” is for you if you are a lawful permanent resident, and it serves as evidence of your valid work authorization. It also may be a stamp within your passport, valid for one year. A current I-551 Green Card is valid for 10 years; however, your right to permanent residency does not expire at this time, only the card itself expires and must be renewed.

An I-94 Card is for you if you are a non-immigrant worker, and your work authorization is incident to your status. Your I-94 Card establishes your identity, and authorizes you to work for your specific employer only.

An EAD is right for you, If you are eligible for employment, but not incident to your status. An EAD may be used as an identification document as well as your work authorization document. Your EAD must usually always be “in hand” before you are authorized to work—just applying for it and being approved is not enough. You apply for the EAD by filing Form I-765, and the EAD itself is Form I-766. The EAD will include your work authorization expiration date, and any work restrictions. You must file for renewal of your EAD no earlier than 120 days before it expires.

What If I am Authorized to Work Incident to My Status, Without Restrictions?

If you are authorized to work incident to your immigration status, without restrictions on your employment, you will not likely need a separate work authorization document. However, this is not always the case.

If you are a lawful permanent resident, you fall under this category, and your I-551 green card or passport stamp serves as your work authorization document.

You may also fall under this category, if you are a lawful temporary resident, a special agricultural worker, or an asylee or refugee. You may need to obtain a separate EAD, however, if you are: a fiancé entering the U.S., a parent or child of a lawful permanent resident, an alien granted withholding of deportation/removal, or extended voluntary departure, or if you are granted benefits under the Family Unity Program.

What If I am Authorized to Work Incident to My Status, With Restrictions?

If you are permitted to work with restrictions, or for a specific employer incident to your status, you generally will not need a separate employment authorization document. This applies, for example, if you are an H-1B employee, in which case your I-94 Card will serve as your work authorization document. You will likely fall under this category if you are an F, H, L, O, P or R category non-immigrant.

If you are an F category student visa holder, you may need to apply for an EAD in some situations. As an F-1 student visa holder, you may pursue on-campus employment without needing to apply for an EAD. This includes on-campus employment such as food services or bookstore employment, as well as off-campus employment that is directly affiliated with the university and integrally related to your educational program. You may also be eligible for Curricular Practical Training, (CPT), such as internships or work-study that is part of your established curricular program.

If you are seeking employment under the Optional Training Program (OPT), then you must apply for an EAD. OPT employment must be directly related to your area of study or major. You may work under OPT when school is not in session during vacation time, during school if less than 20 hours per week, or full time after you finish your course of study. OPT may last for 12 months afterwards, and you may be eligible for a longer period extension.

If you are seeking any other kind of off-campus employment while in school due to unforeseen economic hardship, you must apply for an EAD.

What If I am Otherwise Eligible to Obtain Work Authorization?

If you are otherwise eligible for employment authorization, but not incident to your immigration status, you must apply for and obtain a separate “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD). The timeframe for this process is required to be under 90 days, otherwise USCIS must issue you an interim EAD until they come to a final determination.

Generally, this category applies to many different types of classes of foreign nationals who do not fit into the other categories. It also applies if you are seeking to adjust your status, and you are not presently authorized to work under your current status. Once an EAD is issued, you will be authorized to work for at least one year. You may need, however, to renew your EAD during the adjustment of status process, as it can often take longer than one year.

Contact Us

The attorneys at The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, Co. LPA are experienced in all aspects of immigration law and would be happy to sit down with you and explain the entire process along with all of your rights and options. Please feel free to contact us at the law office nearest you and put us to work for you on any of your immigration needs.
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