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9 min read

Work Authorization Status: A Step-by-Step Guide to Eligibility and Application Process

Understanding work authorization status can be much like deciphering an intricate puzzle. Whether you’re a foreign student looking for hands-on experience in your field, an asylum seeker striving to rebuild your life, or an employer wanting to hire a diverse workforce, understanding work authorization status is paramount. This comprehensive guide aims to provide a roadmap to navigate the labyrinth of U.S. work authorization status.  bh89

Key Takeaways

  • Deciphering Work Authorization Status in the U.S. requires endurance and patience, with potential fines for non-compliance

  • Various immigration categories are eligible for work authorization. Asylum seekers & refugees have a unique path

  • Employers must ensure compliance by utilizing E-Verify system to maintain accurate records & protect employee rights

Deciphering Work Authorization Status in the U.S.

Work authorization is like a golden ticket, granting non-citizens or those without a green card the right to lawfully hold a job in the United States. Imagine it as a bridge connecting foreign nationals to the vibrant U.S. employment landscape. A Social Security number and a work permit are key components of this journey. The process of obtaining a work permit, or a work visa, requires endurance and patience, akin to running a marathon. Tourists and undocumented immigrants, much like spectators, are not eligible for work permits unless they stride into the race by becoming eligible for humanitarian status like asylum.

However, engaging in unauthorized work can be a perilous path, akin to crossing a bridge with missing planks. Failure to pay U.S. payroll and income taxes could end up being a stumbling block in your quest to attain U.S. citizenship. Employers too must tread carefully as hiring unauthorized workers could lead to legal repercussions, much like a hefty toll fee, including substantial fines and penalties.

Exploring Eligibility for Work Authorization

With the concept of work authorization understood, it’s time to navigate the complexities of eligibility. Much like different roads leading to the same destination, there are various immigration categories eligible for work authorization in the U.S. These categories include individuals with immigrant or nonimmigrant visas and DACA recipients.

These paths will be detailed in the subsequent sections.

The Path for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Asylum seekers and refugees find themselves on a unique path. Picture them as travelers who have been granted special permission to cross the bridge of work authorization. Asylum seekers, after a waiting period of 150 days, can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), assuming the traveller’s role. In this journey, Form I-765 serves as the necessary document for obtaining employment authorization. Once their application is approved, they receive the coveted EAD, securing their legal right to work in the United States.

Refugees, on the other hand, hold a special status. They are eligible to work indefinitely upon their arrival in the U.S., much like a lawful permanent resident being granted an open-ended ticket. To apply for a work permit, they must submit Form I-765, Form I-589, along with the associated fees.

Understanding DACA and Work Authorization

DACA recipients, like special guests, are also eligible to apply for an EAD. Application for work authorization requires contacting USCIS, creating an online USCIS account, and filing Form I-765. Upon successful application, they are granted an employment authorization card or work permit. This process necessitates the submission of Form I-821D, Form I-765, and Form I-765WS.

Think of the processing time as the waiting period before the grand event. It varies but usually takes approximately 90 days for a new employment authorization card or work permit. However, the party doesn’t last forever. Just as certain events require regular renewals, DACA recipients need to renew their work authorization every two years.

Navigating Work Authorization for TPS Holders

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders have their distinct path to cross the bridge of work authorization. TPS is like a sanctuary, providing eligible individuals with the opportunity to stay and work in the U.S. while conditions in their home countries are unsafe for return. TPS holders can apply for an EAD by submitting Form I-765 to USCIS. Much like having a special pass, they are authorized to work as long as they hold the TPS status.

Application for work authorization from TPS holders involves submitting Form I-765, which can be concurrently filed with Form I-821. However, it is not permissible for TPS holders to work without an EAD, much like not being allowed to enter a restricted area without proper credentials.

The Intersection of Student Visas and Work Permits

In the realm of student visa processes and work permits, we find an interesting intersection. International students, through F and M visas, can work in the U.S. under certain restrictions. These restrictions act as traffic signals, controlling the flow and ensuring everything runs smoothly.

F-1 international students are eligible to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT). This program permits them to stay and work in their field of study for up to 12 months after the completion of their degree. Think of it as a year of exploration and practical learning. To obtain a work permit, F-1 students must apply for off-campus employment authorization related to their field of study, ensuring the traffic continues to flow smoothly and legally.

Applying for a Work Permit: A Breakdown of the Application Process

The application process for a work permit may seem as complex as deciphering a detailed map. Let’s break it down into manageable steps, providing a clear path to your destination.

Form I-765: Your Gateway to Employment Authorization

Form I-765 serves as the fundamental document for employment authorization. It requires personal identification details, akin to providing your passport at the airport. You will also need to specify your reason for applying, whether it’s for a new work permit, replacing a lost one, or renewing an existing one, much like selecting your travel purpose while booking a ticket.

The work permit filing fee can be paid through:

  • Money order

  • Personal check

  • Cashier’s check

  • Credit or debit card payments (if submitting Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, with Form I-765)

There could also be a biometrics service fee if a biometrics exam is required.

Gathering Supporting Documentation

Supporting documents for your work permit application are of paramount importance, akin to packing essentials for a trip. For the I-765 application, two recent passport-sized photographs and a photocopy of your most recent EAD card are required as identity proof, just as you would need your passport and visa for international travel. To demonstrate eligibility to work in the U.S, you need to present certain documents, akin to showing your boarding pass and ticket at the airport security.

For DACA recipients, the process is slightly different. They need to submit a copy of their DACA approval notice as proof of DACA status, much like presenting a special pass.

If you are an asylum seeker or refugee, you need to submit a decision from an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals as proof of Asylum or Refugee status.

Maintaining Compliance: Renewal and Replacement of EADs

Maintaining compliance with work authorization regulations is as important as keeping your vehicle’s registration current. This includes renewing and replacing your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) on time.

Timely Renewals to Avoid Immigration Problems

Timely renewal of your EAD is as important as renewing your driving license prior to its expiration date. USCIS advises applicants to apply for EAD renewal up to 180 days prior to the expiration of their current EAD, ensuring there is no lapse in work authorization. Failing to renew an EAD in a timely fashion can be likened to driving with an expired license, leading to legal problems like engaging in unlawful employment, becoming ineligible for automatic re-verification, and participating in unauthorized employment.

In some cases, there is an automatic extension period granted to certain renewal applicants to avoid interruptions in employment authorization and documentation, much like a grace period. To renew your EAD, you need to submit the following documents:

  • A copy of your current EAD card

  • A copy of your I-94

  • Passport

  • Two passport-sized photographs

These documents are similar to what you would need to renew your passport.

Steps for Replacement EADs

Replacing a lost or damaged EAD follows a similar process to obtaining a replacement for a lost or damaged credit card. You need to file Form I-765 along with any applicable fees, just as you would need to contact your bank and pay necessary charges for a new card. The required documents include a copy of Form I-94 and a passport or other travel documents, much like you would need to provide your identity proof for card replacement.

If you haven’t received your EAD yet, it’s akin to waiting for your new credit card to arrive. You need to contact USCIS to inform them of the delayed delivery of the card. If USCIS has made errors on your EAD, you need to submit a correction request, much like you would report any errors on your credit card statement.

Financial Considerations: Fees and Waivers

Just as planning a trip involves financial considerations, applying for a work permit also incurs costs. The current fee for submitting Form I-765 for employment authorization in the U.S. stands at $410, much like an admission fee to a theme park. But what if you can’t afford the fee?

For those facing financial hardship, there’s a provision to request a fee waiver for Form I-765. It’s akin to applying for a scholarship or financial aid. You need to submit evidence of financial hardship, such as income proof or documentation demonstrating an inability to pay the fee. Just as scholarship applications vary in success, so do fee waiver requests for Form I-765. Success depends on meeting the eligibility criteria and providing the necessary supporting documents.

It’s worth noting that the fee structure for Form I-765 has undergone changes, much like the fluctuating prices of airfares.

Consequences of Unauthorized Work

Engaging in unauthorized work is akin to a traffic violation. It’s a violation of U.S. immigration law and has severe implications. Even for short-term or “under the table” employment, being legally authorized with a work permit is a must, just as a driver’s license is mandatory for driving on the road.

Employers who knowingly employ illegal workers may face civil fines and/or criminal penalties, akin to hefty fines for traffic violations. Engaging in unauthorized work can also have significant repercussions on a person’s future immigration status, including refusal of a green card application, ineligibility to change or extend status, inadmissibility for future entry, and even deportation, much like a reckless driver losing their driving privileges.

The essential takeaway? Never work without a work permit in the U.S., much like you would never drive without a valid driving license.

Tools for Tracking Your EAD Application

Similar to tracking an online order, you can monitor the progress of your EAD application. The USCIS Case Status Online page acts as a tracking tool, providing updates on your application status. You can log into your USCIS online account to receive automatic updates, including your U.S. Postal Service (USPS) tracking number when your EAD is dispatched.

To track your EAD application online, you need your Receipt Number, USCIS Account Number (optional), and personal information, much like tracking an online order. The online tracking system for EAD applications is updated monthly, ensuring an up-to-date status of your application. If online tracking is not your cup of tea, you can also contact USCIS to ascertain the status of your pending case, much like calling customer service for order updates.

Transitioning Between Visas and Adjusting Status

Changing between different visa categories and adjusting your work authorization status can be compared to switching lanes in traffic. An “open market” Employment Authorization Document, obtained based on a green card application to adjust status, does not bind the holder to a single sponsoring employer, giving them the freedom to switch lanes.

To transition from a non-immigrant visa to an immigrant visa, you need to file a request to change your nonimmigrant visa status with USCIS, much like applying for a lane change during a road trip. Adjusting status can lead to permanent residency and the ability to work in the U.S., much like reaching your desired destination.

Ensuring Employer Compliance and Employee Rights

Employers play a fundamental role in upholding work authorization laws. They can do so by implementing a comprehensive work authorization verification process, much like a meticulous security check at the airport. A specific employer is legally required to verify the identity and employment authorization of each individual they hire, much like checking boarding passes and identification at the airport.

They can utilize the E-Verify system to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S., much like using automated systems for verifying passenger details. Maintaining accurate and current work authorization records is part of HR’s role, akin to maintaining passenger records for a flight.


Understanding work authorization status and navigating its complexities is like successfully completing a challenging journey. We’ve unpacked the concept, explored eligibility, highlighted the importance of compliance, and navigated the application process. Remember, whether you’re an asylum seeker, a DACA recipient, a TPS holder, or an international student, understanding and complying with work authorization laws is imperative. Stay informed, adhere to the regulations, and let your work journey in the U.S. be a smooth and successful one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, I am legally authorized to work in the US without needing sponsorship. I do not need to apply for any additional authorization or pay any costs.

Those who are applying for adjustment of status to permanent resident, a spouse of an E1 treaty trader, E2 treaty investor or L1 intra-company transferee, and a spouse or child of a J1 exchange visitor are all eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document.

On average, it takes about 6.7 months to get a U.S. I-765 work permit approved. Delays due to the growing backlog of applications may cause further delays and the filing cost could increase significantly in 2023.

A visa grants temporary entry into a country for specific purposes, whereas work permits are designed for individuals who will be working in a foreign country over an extended period of time.

Quinn is RemotePad’s authority on remote work and HR tools. A Baltimore native, Quinn has a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William & Mary and a professional background in copy editing and education.