The application process for obtaining a U.S. work permit (also called an employment authorization document or EAD) is fairly straightforward. You need to fill out a short form, attach the fee, photos, and documents proving you're eligible, and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The catch, however, is making sure you are eligible for an EAD. We'll talk about both eligibility and preparing the application form (I-765) here.
A work permit is available only to limited groups of foreign nationals, usually those who are in the process of applying for adjustment of status (a green card) or who have some temporary right to be in the United States.
For example, EADs are available to K-1 fiancé visa holders, asylees, 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. (For more detail, see Who Qualifies for a Work Permit in the United States?)
Also, don't confuse applying for a work permit with applying for a work-based visa to the United States, such as an H-1B. This is a much more complicated application process. See this article on getting an H-1B visa for more on that. And a work permit is in no way equivalent to a U.S. green card, which means the person has permanent residence in the United States.
The form you will use to apply for a work permit is Form I-765, available for free download on the USCIS website. The following discussion refers to the version issued on 07/26/22.
Most of the form is self-explanatory. You'll fill in your name, contact information, and so on. On Question 22, they really do want your most recent entry into the U.S., even if you had been living here for a while and merely took a short trip abroad. "Manner of entry" asks about the type of visa you used to come in on.
Question 27 will probably require the most effort. You'll need to look at the I-765 instructions (also on the USCIS website) to figure out which eligibility category you're in. For example, some of the common categories include (a)(5) for someone granted asylum, (a)(12) for people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), (c)(3)(C) for students doing post-completion optional practical training, (c)(5) for J-2 spouses of a J-1 exchange visitor, and (c)(9) for anyone with a pending adjustment of status (green card) application.
If your category has only two letters or numbers (such as (c)(9)), don't worry about the fact that there are three spaces on the form (formed by the parentheses). Just put the "c" in the first set of parentheses and the "9" in the second.
To prove that you qualify for a work permit, you'll need to make a photocopy of whatever shows the status that you described in Question 29. For example, if you applied as an asylee, attach a copy of the asylum office letter or judge's order granting you asylum. The instructions to Form I-765 detail which documents you need to submit.
Note, however, that if you are applying for the work permit at the very same time as you apply for the status that will give you the right to a work permit, such as for adjustment of status or TPS, you don't need to include proof of eligibility. USCIS will figure out you're eligible from the application you submitted.
The fee amount is $410 as of early 2023. But USCIS fee amounts go up frequently (and a hike has been proposed for later in 2023), so double check the website for the latest. If you are requesting deferred action, or are applying for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) long-term resident status, or are applying as a worker whom USCIS has approved an employment-based immigrant petition for but you are facing compelling circumstances (or are that person's spouse or unmarried dependent child), you must also pay an $85 biometrics fee (for fingerprinting and such).
Also realize that some categories of applicants do not need to pay the I-765 application fee, such as those simultaneously filing to adjust status to get a green card (they are covered by their I-485 fee); check the instructions for Form I-765 to see if you're among them.
You will pay by either money order, personal check, cashier's check, or by credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
Most applicants must submit the I-765 application to USCIS by mail. Look carefully at the website for which address to use. It's based on your category of eligibility, and is different for people using U.S. mail and those using a package or courier service.
In a few categories, online filing is also an option, by creating an account with USCIS.
Make a complete copy of everything in your submission packet, even the checks, before sending it. Then you'll want to monitor USCIS's progress on making a decision; it will take longer than you hope.