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 in the first place. We'll talk about both eligibility and preparing the application form (I-765) here.
A work permit is available (upon submitting an application) 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.
Also realize that 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; a status that automatically comes with the right to work.
The form eligible foreign nationals must 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 10/31/22.
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.
First, let's discuss the fee amount. USCIS's fee structure is in flux.
Through March 31, 2024: The fee to file Form I-765 is $410. Applicants requesting deferred action, or applying for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) long-term resident status, or applying as a worker whom USCIS has approved an employment-based immigrant petition for but is facing compelling circumstances (or is that person's spouse or unmarried dependent child), must also pay an $85 biometrics fee (for fingerprinting and such).
Also according to the early 2024 fee structure, applicants who are simultaneously filing to adjust status to get a green card do not need to pay the I-765 application fee. They are covered by their I-485 fee.
Starting April 1, 2024: The fee to file Form I-765 will in most cases be $470 for online filing and $520 for paper filing. Applicants who are simultaneously filing to adjust status to get a green card will need to pay a discounted I-765 application fee, of $260. People exempt from the I-765 fee but who will owe a biometrics fee will need to pay $30.
Optional added fee for Premium Processing: Another consideration is whether you want to pay extra for "Premium Processing," meaning USCIS promises to make a decision within 30 business days. This isn't available in all categories; currently only to F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 students seeking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions. The fee is $1,500 through February 26, 2024, at which time it goes up to $1,685. You will need to also submit a Form I-907, whether filing online or by mail.
To pay USCIS, you can use either money order, personal check, cashier's check, or credit card (in the latter case, by using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions).
USCIS fee amounts go up frequently, so double check their website for the latest.
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. The EAD you eventually receive will have an expiration date (anywhere from a few months to five years), so keep an eye on that and, if still eligible, be sure to apply for renewal in time to avoid gaps.
Many immigration attorneys charge flat fees for basic services such as preparing a work permit application. By hiring one, you can rest assured that you are eligible, are filling out the paperwork correctly, and have someone keeping an eye on whether you receive a timely response from USCIS.