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 one-page 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. A work permit is available only to limited groups of immigrants, 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 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 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.
The form you will use to apply for a work permit is Form I-765, available for free download on the USCIS website.
Most of the form is self-explanatory. You’ll fill in your name, contact information, and so on. On Question 12, 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 16 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 most common categories include category (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 second set of parentheses and the “9” in the third.
To prove you qualify for a work permit, you’ll need to make a photocopy of whatever shows the status that you described in Question 16. 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 status, 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 $380 as of 2016. But USCIS fee amounts go up frequently, so double check the website for the latest. If you are requesting deferred action, you must also pay an $85 biometrics fee. Also realize that some categories of applicants do not need to pay the 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 check or money order (not cash) if you mail your application. If you e-file, you can pay by credit card, debit card, or electronic transfer of funds from a checking or savings account from a U.S. bank
There are two ways to submit your I-765 application to USCIS: Either by mail or by “e-filing” (online, through a computer). E-filing can be convenient for payment, and because it lets you fill out and submit Form I-765 online. But realize that you’ll still need to mail in your supporting documents.
If submitting the whole package by mail, look carefully at 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.
Make a complete copy of everything in your packet, even the checks, before sending it.