A "work permit" is the commonly used name for an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to certain people who are in the United States and legally permitted to work here. It is a plastic-laminated identity card showing the non-citizen's name and photo, as well as an expiration date.
An EAD is different from a green card. In most cases, it's a requirement for people who are in the U.S. temporarily, such as on a nonimmigrant visa, or awaiting an immigration benefit, such as asylum or adjustment of status (a green card).
Not everyone who has a right to work in the United States needs to apply for a work permit. For example, most people admitted to the U.S. on temporary work visas for specific employers, such as H-1B visas, need not (and should not) apply for an EAD. They can go straight to a Social Security office and get a card to show to their new employer indicating the right to work.
How long a U.S. work permit lasts depends on the holder's current immigration status or what type of visa they are here on. Most EADs are valid for one year. Obviously, however, no person will be given a work permit that lasts longer than their permitted stay in the United States.
So, for example, someone who arrives in the U.S. with a fiancé visa (K-1) and applies for a work permit will receive one that lasts only until the 90-day termination of that person's K-1 visa. Although it might sound like this would create problems for fiancés who plan to apply for green cards after marriage and stay in the United States, it actually doesn't. That's because fiancés can simply apply to adjust status as soon as they've gotten married, and then apply for an EAD that lasts even longer, at that time.
Some applicants may renew their work permits if their permitted stay in the United States has been extended or lasts longer than the original work permit did.
Not every immigrant in the United States can apply to USCIS for a work permit. You have to have a separate visa or immigration status that allows you to work. For example, the following immigrants can apply for work permits:
The above is not a complete list.
The application for a work permit is made on USCIS Form I-765. Be sure to read the instructions to the form, which explain more about who is eligible and what documents you need to provide. See How To Apply for a U.S. Work Permit for more information on the process.
It's important to play close attention to the expiration date on your work permit. Without a valid, unexpired work permit, you might lose your job or be arrested in an immigration raid. Your employer could also get into trouble with U.S. immigration authorities if it failed to keep track of the expiration date and ask to see your latest EAD.
If you are eligible to get a new EAD, it's best to apply for your renewal between three and six months before your original EAD will expire. Don't wait until the last minute; USCIS is always incredibly backed up, and you could wait weeks or months. (It's worth checking on USCIS processing times when planning when to apply; choose Form I-765 from the dropdown menu.)
If you have questions about applying for or renewing a work permit, or any other aspect of your immigration status, it is a good idea to speak with a qualified immigration attorney.