Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Guide

Understanding work permits is crucial if you are an immigrant seeking authorization to work in the United States. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is an official government document issued by USCIS. It grants eligible immigrants the legal right to be employed in the country. While permanent residency is not a prerequisite for obtaining an EAD, you will need a valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visa that authorizes residence and employment within the United States. This guide will explore the available work permits, your eligibility requirements, the application process, EAD costs and timeline, and more!

What Is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card?

The Employment Authorization Document, also commonly referred to as a work permit, EAD card, or Form I-765, is a crucial document issued by USCIS. As mentioned, it authorizes immigrants and certain foreign nationals to work in America legally. For those who are not permanent residents, an EAD is essential for obtaining employment.

What Does an EAD Card Look Like?

Imagine an EAD as a photo identification card, not unlike a driver’s license, but specifically designed for work authorization purposes. These credit card-sized documents feature the holder’s:

  • photo,
  • biographical information (name, date of birth, country of origin, gender),
  • a unique USCIS number (Alien Registration Number),
  • and various security features to prevent forgery.

These security features include a hologram, a specific color scheme with a prominent bald eagle image, and the holder’s photo appearing on both sides of the card. The latest EAD design, implemented in May 2017, further enhances these security measures to minimize the risk of fraud.

Work Permit vs. Work Visa: What Is the Difference?

Navigating U.S. immigration and working in the U.S. can be confusing, and many people struggle to differentiate between work permits and work visas. Here’s a breakdown to clarify the key distinctions:

  • Work visas permit you to reside in the United States and work for a specific employer. The employer initiates the visa application process on your behalf, and the work visa‘s validity is typically tied to your employment with that particular company. This means you are generally restricted from working for any other employer while in the U.S. Leaving your sponsoring employer means obtaining a new immigration status before you can work elsewhere.
  • Work permits (EADs): In contrast, work permits are not tied to a specific employer. With a valid EAD, you can work for any employer in the United States. As long as your underlying immigration status allows continued employment, you can typically renew your work permit to maintain work authorization.

IMPORTANT! A crucial distinction exists between EADs linked to green card applications and those tied to other visa categories. If your EAD is associated with a pending green card application, you’ll have an “open market” EAD. This means you are not restricted to working for a specific employer and can pursue any lawful job opportunity. In contrast, EADs issued under specific other visa categories may have limitations on which employers you can work for.

Types of EAD Cards Issued by USCIS

USCIS issues Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) in three main categories to cater to different situations:

1. Initial EAD

This is the first work permit you will receive to begin lawful employment in the United States. It is crucial for any eligible immigrant or foreign national seeking work authorization.

2. Renewal Work Permit (EAD)

As the name suggests, a renewal EAD extends your existing work authorization after your initial EAD expires. It’s important to be proactive with the renewal process and avoid filing for a renewal EAD more than 180 days (six months) before your current EAD’s expiration date. You can thus minimize potential gaps in your work authorization.

3. Replacement Employment Authorization Document

Life happens, and sometimes unforeseen circumstances can damage your EAD or lead to its loss or theft. In such situations, a replacement EAD serves as an additional document. Replacement EADs can also be issued if your initial EAD contains errors, such as a misspelling in your name. USCIS requires you to promptly report any lost, stolen, or damaged EADs and file for a replacement to maintain your work authorization.

The Importance of an EAD: Can You Work in the U.S. Without One?

The answer is a resounding no. Working in America without a work permit (EAD) is a serious offense with potentially significant consequences. Here are the risks involved:

Jeopardized Green Card Application

If you’re pursuing permanent residency (green card), unauthorized employment can severely jeopardize your application. USCIS will meticulously examine any green card application with a history of unauthorized work. While there may be some specific exceptions (e.g., spouses of U.S. citizens), generally, working without a permit creates a hurdle in obtaining a green card.

You Could Face Deportation and Re-Entry Can Be Barred

The penalties for working without authorization can be severe. You could face deportation proceedings, meaning the government can remove you from the U.S. Additionally, a period of inadmissibility (barred from entering the U.S.) could be imposed for three or ten years, depending on the duration of your unauthorized employment. It could significantly impact your ability to return to the U.S., even for temporary stays or applying for a different visa category (e.g., a student visa after working illegally on a tourist visa).

IMPORTANT! There are no exceptions for short-term work. The requirement for a work permit applies even to short-term or informal employment. Even a few hours of unauthorized work, whether paid or unpaid, can create severe complications for your future immigration prospects.

What Are the Benefits of Obtaining an Employment Authorization Card?

Fortunately, the application process for a work permit is generally streamlined, mainly when submitted alongside your green card application. An EAD allows you to legally begin or continue working in the U.S. while your green card application progresses.

Furthermore, even if you’re unsure about future employment plans, securing a work permit provides peace of mind and the freedom to pursue attractive professional opportunities that might arise unexpectedly.

Eligibility Criteria for Obtaining an Employment Authorization Document

Before we delve further into this EAD guide, you must understand the distinction between applying for work authorization and the actual work permit document (Form I-766). While this guide focuses on the work permit, obtaining one requires filing Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization.

Now that we have clarified the difference between forms I-765 and I-766 let’s move on to the EAD eligibility requirements.

Work permit eligibility is pretty straightforward. If you qualify for an immigration status that grants work authorization or already possess such a status, you can obtain a work permit (EAD). Conversely, if you’re ineligible for an employment-authorized immigration status, you won’t be able to secure a work permit.

Who Must Apply for an EAD via Form I-765

Generally, must submit Form I-765 if you fall into one of these categories:

You Are Authorized to Work, but You Need Proof

You might already have an immigration status or circumstances that grant you work authorization (e.g., asylee, refugee, U nonimmigrant). However, you may still require an EAD as official documentation to present to potential employers.

You Require Permission to Work

If your immigration status doesn’t automatically allow you to work in the U.S., you must request employment authorization through Form I-765. Here are some common scenarios:

  • Pending green card application (Form I-485): While your green card application is being processed, you can apply for an EAD to bridge the gap and work legally.
  • Pending asylum application (Form I-589): Similar to green card applications, asylum seekers can apply for an EAD while their applications are pending.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa with Work Restrictions: Certain nonimmigrant visas, like F-1 student visas, permit residence in the U.S. but require an EAD for employment authorization.

The table below summarizes the various immigration categories that qualify for an Employment Authorization Document. Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, so always refer to the latest USCIS guidelines for the most up-to-date information.

Immigration Status

Spouse of certain visa holders

Approved temporary worker

F-1 student with financial hardship (opt)


Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Fiancé(e) of a U.S. Citizen with an approved petition

Granted asylum in the U.S.

Application for permanent residence (Form I-485) in process

Exceptional ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics

Spouses of H-1B, O, or P visa holders (may require specific conditions)

Designated countries experiencing temporary conditions

Specific exchange visitor programs authorized for work

Approved temporary worker petition

Optional Practical Training program for financial hardship

Who Doesn't Need to Apply for an EAD Card via Form I-765

The requirement for a separate EAD doesn’t apply to everyone. Here are the people who can skip the EAD application process:

Green Card Holders

If you’ve successfully obtained lawful permanent resident status, your Green Card, also known as Form I-551, serves a dual purpose. Not only does it confirm your permanent residency in the United States, but it also automatically grants you unrestricted work authorization. This means you can freely pursue any lawful employment opportunities in the U.S. without needing an additional EAD.

Nonimmigrant Visas with Employer Sponsorship

Specific nonimmigrant visa categories function as your work authorization document. For instance, if you hold an H-1B visa for specialty occupations, an L-1B visa for intracompany transfers, an O visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, or a P visa for athletes, entertainers, or artists, your visa itself permits you to work for a specific employer.

In these cases, obtaining a separate EAD is not required. However, these employer-sponsored visas often come with specific conditions and limitations. Always refer to the details of your particular visa category for a comprehensive understanding of your work authorization parameters.

Essential Considerations for Tourists and Undocumented Immigrants Looking to Work in the United States

Individuals holding B-1 visas (tourists) and undocumented immigrants cannot apply for work permits unless they qualify for humanitarian status like asylum while in the U.S.

USCIS won’t issue work permits to these categories, and federal law prohibits U.S. employers from hiring them.

If you hold a B-1 visa or are undocumented and must work in the U.S., consulting with immigration lawyers or service providers is mandatory before seeking employment. There might be a legal path to obtain immigration status that allows work authorization, as working without an EAD card can create significant hurdles in acquiring legal status in the future.

The EAD Application Process: Steps and Required Documents

The Employment Authorization Document application process involves two key aspects: completing Form I-765 and assembling the necessary supporting documents that verify your eligibility to work in the United States.

While the core application form remains constant, the documents you’ll need to submit will vary depending on your immigration status and the reason you qualify for work authorization.

Let’s see the work permit application step by step and the required EAD documents (which largely mirror those requested by Form I-765).

Step 1: Prepare Form I-765

You can access Form I-765 directly from the USCIS website. Fill in the requested information carefully, including your name, contact details, and the category establishing your eligibility to work in the U.S.

Step 2: Gather the Supporting Documents for Your Work Permit Application

If this is your first time applying for a work permit in the U.S., you’ll need to submit one of the following identification documents alongside your Form I-765:

  • Birth record and a copy of your I.D. photo 
  • Visa from a non-U.S. consulate.
  • Another national identity document containing your photo or fingerprint.

While the specific documents required will vary based on your eligibility category, most EAD applications necessitate the following:


Passport copy

Passport-sized photos

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

Previous work permits (if applicable)

U.S. visa copy (if applicable)

Green card application receipt notice (if applicable)


A copy of the page in your passport that contains your photo.

Two recent color photographs (2x2 inches) with your Alien Registration Number and full name written on the back in pencil or felt-tip pen.

A copy of both sides of your original travel record or a printed copy of your electronic I-94 reflecting your most recent entry into the U.S.

Copies of both sides of any work permit you have held.

A copy of your current valid visa is typically found within your passport (applicable if you're in the U.S.).

A copy of the receipt notice received from USCIS when you submitted your visa application (only required if applying for an EAD after filing Form I-485).

Step 3: Pay the Work Permit Filing Fee

USCIS charges a fee to process most applications for an Employment Authorization Document through Form I-765. As of now, the standard application fee sits at $520.

The good news is that some immigrants qualify for fee waivers, so consult the USCIS fee schedule for the latest information and potential exemptions. Here are some examples of those who might not need to pay the filing fee:

  • Immigrants applying to adjust their status to a green card.
  • Applicants filing their initial asylum work permit application (both filing and biometrics fees are waived).

IMPORTANT! Remember that USCIS fees are subject to change, so it’s always wise to double-check their official fee schedule before submitting your application to ensure you’re paying the most current amount.

How to Pay the EAD Fees

USCIS accepts several payment methods for filing fees.

You can use personal or cashier’s checks or a money order payable to Homeland Security.

If you’re filing your application at a USCIS Lockbox, you can pay by credit or debit card, but this requires submitting an additional form, G-1450, along with your I-765.

Step 4: Submitting Your EAD Application Package

Once you’ve completed Form I-765, gathered all the necessary supporting documents (as outlined in the previous table), and settled the filing fee, you can submit your EAD application to USCIS. Let’s consider some things before submission.

Cover Letter (Optional but Recommended)

While not mandatory, including a cover letter with your application package can be helpful. A well-crafted cover letter can inform USCIS about the contents of your submission and any specific details you’d like them to consider. There are no strict requirements for cover letters, but you can find cover letter templates online to guide you in structuring your own.

Limited Exceptions to Filing I-765 Electronically

In most cases, immigrants cannot file Form I-765 electronically. The exception applies to situations where you submit Form I-765 alongside an application for another immigration status, such as a green card. If this applies to you, you’ll likely need to mail your entire application package.

EAD Submission Address

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer regarding the mailing address for your Employment Authorization Document application.

The specific address will depend on several factors, including your place of residence, your preferred location for any potential visa interview, the reason you qualify for work authorization, and even the mail carrier you choose to use for submission.

Make Copies for Your Records

Before sending your application package to USCIS, it’s a wise precaution to make a complete copy of everything you’re submitting, including any checks. Having copies on hand can be invaluable for your records and future reference.

Step 5: Wait for Your Work Permit Approval

After submitting your EAD application package, it’s time to settle in for the USCIS processing period. This stage primarily involves waiting for USCIS to review your case and issue a decision.

IMPORTANT! On average, the processing time for your work permit (the same as the processing time for your I-765 Form) can range from 6 months to a year. While this timeframe can feel like an eternity, it’s crucial to be patient and allow USCIS sufficient time to evaluate your application thoroughly.

The most desired outcome, of course, is the USCIS approval of your EAD application. If you meet all the eligibility requirements, have submitted a complete and accurate application package, and haven’t made any errors on your Form I-765, then approval is likely.

Step 6: Gearing Up for Employment (After Receiving Your EAD)

Now that you’re officially authorized to start employment in the United States, here is what to do and what to expect as you embark on this new chapter:

Get an SSN – Social Security Number

Obtaining a Social Security Number (SSN) is a crucial first step if you’re new to the U.S. workforce. You can simplify this process by applying for your SSN directly through Form I-765 when you submit your EAD application. This process eliminates the need for a separate Social Security Administration office visit. Just mark the appropriate section on your Form I-765 to indicate you want to apply for an SSN.

Completing Form I-9 for Your Employer

Once you secure your first job, your employer will likely require you to complete Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). This form verifies that you’re legally authorized to work in the United States. Your EAD and SSN will satisfy this requirement and demonstrate your employment eligibility.

Tax Obligations

As a legal employee in the U.S., you are responsible for paying federal and state income taxes and payroll taxes. These taxes subsidize Social Security and Medicare programs.

Failure to fulfill these tax obligations can result in substantial penalties and potentially hinder your chances of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Familiarizing yourself with U.S. tax laws or hiring a tax attorney can help you meet your tax requirements.

IMPORTANT! With a valid work permit, U.S. law forbids employers to discriminate you based on your immigration status. This ensures a fair and equal playing field as you navigate the job market.

Can USCIS Deny Your EAD Card?

Unfortunately, work permit application denials can occur for various reasons. Common causes include mistakes or omissions on Form I-765, missing required supporting documents, or ineligibility for work authorization based on your immigration status.

If your application is denied, USCIS will typically send you a written notice with the reason for the denial. This notice will also outline your options for appealing the decision or re-filing your application.

How to Renew or Replace Your EAD Card

If your EAD is nearing expiration (within the next 6 months) or has already expired, you’ll need to renew it to maintain work authorization. On the other hand, If your Employment Authorization Document is lost, stolen, damaged, or contains errors (which are not your fault), you’ll need to replace it. Let’s see what each of these situations entails:

Renewing Your EAD (via Form I-765)

You’ll essentially be filing a new Form I-765 application to renew your work permit. The process is similar to your initial application.

First, assemble the supporting documents typically requested in Step 2 of the initial EAD application process (refer to the table in the previous section of this EAD guide for details). Next, pay the fee and wait for approval for the new I-765.

IMPORTANT! Initiate the renewal process before your EAD’s expiration date (ideally, no later than 180 days prior) to avoid any gaps in your employment authorization. For some statuses (like asylum), you could renew your work permit after USCIS approves your previous application.

Replacing Your EAD (also via Form I-765)

There are a few situations where you’ll need to replace your EAD. If your work permit is lost or stolen, you’ll file a new Form I-765 and pay the standard filing fee.

On the other hand, if you haven’t received your EAD after a reasonable wait time, contacting USCIS to inquire about non-delivery is the first step before filing a replacement application.

Finally, if your EAD contains incorrect information due to an USCIS mistake, you can submit a new Form I-765 without a filing fee. Include your original EAD, any documents supporting the necessary correction, and a clear explanation of the error. Send this package to the National Benefits Center or the service center that handled your most recent work permit application.

Employment Authorization Document Frequently Asked Questions

If you still need clarification on getting a work permit in the United States, check out this section of our EAD guide, where we answer the most frequent questions our clients send!

How long is a work permit (EAD) valid?

The validity period for a new EAD depends on why you’re eligible for work authorization. In general, most new work permits are valid for one year. However, suppose you’re applying for work authorization through the status adjustment process. In that case, the initial EAD and any renewals you receive while your green card application is pending will typically only be valid for two years.

There are two components to the EAD application fees:

  • Filing fee: This standard fee (form I-765) is $520 and covers the processing costs associated with your application.
  • Biometrics fee: Not everyone needs to pay this additional $85 fee. It’s required for three specific applicant groups: 
    • Applicants seeking DACA
    • Individuals with approved employment-based green card petitions facing compelling circumstances
    • Spouses and unmarried dependent children of those with approved employment-based green card petitions facing compelling circumstances.

You won’t be responsible for the biometrics fee if you don’t fall into one of these categories.

Yes. While not a primary form of identification like a passport or driver’s license, your EAD can be used as an I.D. in certain situations.

A common question is what happens if your last name changes after receiving your EAD, perhaps due to marriage. In this scenario, once you have your updated passport reflecting your new name, you must apply for a “Replacement EAD.” Unfortunately, the original EAD becomes invalid.

In this case, you need to submit your original EAD, but you’ll also need to pay the application fee again. The processing times for replacements can be similar to those for an initial EAD application, so arm yourself with patience until USCIS approves your new I-765 form. 

Keep a copy of your original EAD along with the receipt notice from USCIS confirming your new application to avoid any disruption to your employment authorization while you wait for the replacement.

The processing time for your Employment Authorization card is the same as Form I-765. It can take anywhere from 7 to 12 months. While USCIS used to process work permit applications (Form I-765) in around 6-7 months, current EAD processing times generally take longer due to an increasing backlog.

While both Employment Authorization Documents and green cards allow you to work legally in the United States, they represent different authorization levels and come with varying benefits.

The green card grants you the right to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely, with a path towards eventual American citizenship. Green cards offer additional privileges like eligibility for certain government benefits and sponsorship of family members for immigration.

An EAD, on the other hand, is a work permit. It authorizes you to work legally in the U.S. for a specific period, usually one year, though it can be renewed. EADs are temporary and don’t provide a pathway to citizenship directly. They are issued to individuals in various immigration statuses, such as students with work authorization or asylum seekers.

In other words, a green card is a key that unlocks the door to permanent residency and a more comprehensive range of opportunities in the U.S., while an EAD is more like a temporary pass that allows you to work legally for a specific timeframe.

Absolutely! While a valid work visa allows you to work legally, applying for a work permit (EAD) with your green card submission offers several advantages. It acts as a safety net if your visa experiences delays or denial and provides more freedom by granting “open market” work authorization. This means you can switch employers or start your own business without limitations tied to your current visa. It’s a strategic move that offers peace of mind and extra flexibility during the green card process.

Get Your EAD Card and Start Working Legally in the U.S.!

Are you ready to unlock exciting career opportunities in the U.S. with a stress-free EAD application process? ImmigrationDirect specializes in assisting our clients to submit error-free EAD applications, ensuring their path to legal work authorization is smooth and without delays.

Don’t put your American dream on hold anymore! Contact us today and let our immigration experts guide you toward a successful EAD submission and the fulfilling career you deserve!

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