A labor certificate (LC) and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) are two separate documents that relate to a foreign worker’s ability to work legally in the United States. This article explains the difference between the LC and the EAD and clarifies when foreign workers need to complete these applications.
The LC is the application that U.S. employers file with the Department of Labor (DOL). A U.S. employer will file an LC on behalf of a foreign worker as the first step in sponsoring that worker for a green card. In the context of the LC application, the employer is called the "petitioner" and the foreign worker is the "beneficiary."
The LC application (also referred to as the “PERM application”) requires the U.S. employer to post advertisements for the foreign worker’s prospective job. The U.S. employer then has to certify to the DOL in the LC that no qualified U.S. workers applied for the foreign worker’s position.
Once the DOL approves the LC, the U.S. employer can file what's known as the I-140 petition on behalf of the foreign worker, by submitting form I-140 and supporting documents with the agency United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is the second step in obtaining an employment-based green card. Just like with the LC, in the I-140 petition, the employer is the petitioner and the foreign worker is the beneficiary.
The third and final step is for the foreign worker to file an adjustment of status (green card) application with USCIS. The foreign worker files this application on Form I-485, with supporting documents, on his or her own behalf. As you can see, the LC is just one step in a multi-step process that ultimately leads to a green card. Although the LC application does not confer any sort of immigration status on its own, the LC is an essential part of the green card application. In the majority of circumstances, a foreign worker MUST be the beneficiary of an approved LC in order to apply for a green card.
Your employer needs to file an LC on your behalf if you wish to work and live in the U.S. permanently and obtain your green card. If you do not want to work and live in the U.S. permanently, you and your employer should develop a different strategy that will allow you to extend your nonimmigrant visa, but which does not ultimately lead to a green card for you.
An EAD is a work authorization document issued by USCIS. The EAD allows the holder to work for any U.S. employer. The important thing to know about the EAD is that the document itself gives the holder permission to work for any employer – the employer does not have to file an H-1B petition or other work visa petition on behalf of the holder before the holder can begin working.
Foreign nationals file EAD applications (I-765 applications) on their own behalf. They file the applications with USCIS. There are many types of foreign nationals who are eligible to apply for EAD, including foreign nationals who are applying for their green card (with an I-485 application pending with USCIS), L-2 visa holders (spouses of L-1 visa holders), and asylum applicants.
There are multiple situations in which it would be in your best interest to file for an EAD (and these situations are best discussed with an experienced immigration attorney). One situation is where you are filing for your green card and you do not want to extend your underlying nonimmigrant status.
For example, let’s say you are in the U.S. in H-1B status working for employer X. Employer X files an LC and I-140 petition on your behalf, and both of these applications are approved. You are now ready to file for your green card. Because of lengthy delays, it may take several months to a few years for USCIS to approve your green card application, but during that time you want to continue working for Employer X. Instead of having to keep extending your H-1B status, instead you can file the EAD application and continue working with Employer X using your EAD.
The following are the most important differences between the LC and the EAD.
If you need help getting your employment documents in order, find an immigration attorney and schedule a consultation to discuss your case.