My K-1 Visa Is Pending: Can I Work in the U.S.?

Learn the best strategy for quickly obtaining a U.S. work permit during or after the K-1 fiancé visa process.

By , Attorney (Capital University Law School)

If you are currently awaiting approval of a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, based on engagement and upcoming marriage to a U.S. citizen, it could be some time before you can legally work in the United States. You will have to enter the U.S. using your K-1 visa, and then either:

  • apply for a work permit, or
  • wait until you've married the U.S. citizen, and include an I-765 work permit application in your application to adjust status (get a green card).

We'll discuss both possibilities below.

What Is a Work Permit?

A work permit, also called an employment authorization document or EAD, is a small plastic photo identity card that shows that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved you to work in the United States.

You will need to show it to your employer when you report to work for the first time. You can also use the EAD to obtain a U.S. Social Security number (SSN), which employers require in order to pay your employment-related taxes (including for Social Security, thus allowing you to claim benefits upon retirement).

Applying for a Work Permit While on a K-1 Visa

A K-1 visa allow you to enter the U.S. and remain for 90 days in order to get married and, if you wish, apply to adjust status. If you want to work during those 90 days, one option is to apply to USCIS right away for employment authorization, on Form I-765. You will need to pay a filing fee.

The catch, however, is that by the time you have submitted the Form I-765 to USCIS and it has processed it and made a decision, the 90 days might have passed. As of late 2023, USCIS's typical reported processing time for an I-765 varied widely, from four to nineteen months. (Historically, USCIS routinely approved EADs in two or three months, but the agency has been extremely delayed of late.)

No matter how long USCIS takes to approve an EAD, it will give the card an expiration date of the end of your 90-day permitted stay on your K-1 visa (the exact date of which is shown on your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record).

Given these realities, it might make more sense to wait and use the option described next; that of simply getting married as soon as possible, and applying for a work permit along with your adjustment of status application.

After Marriage: Applying for a Work Permit Along With Adjustment of Status

As soon as you have entered the U.S. on your K-1 visa, the clock starts ticking. You have 90 days within which to get married, obtain the official government certification of your marriage (which can take days or weeks), and prepare the mountain of paperwork required for your adjustment of status application (which you'll submit to USCIS by mail).

The sooner you get this done, the sooner you'll get your approval for U.S. conditional residence (which should eventually lead to permanent residence).

One of the forms you'll want to include in your adjustment of status packet is Form I-765, for a work permit. Good news: You don't have to pay an added fee for it if it's included in this packet. Once USCIS processes it, you'll receive an EAD with an expiration date that's likely to be a year long, to cover the period while you await your green card interview at a USCIS office.

Risks of Working in the U.S. Without Authorization

Some people decide to work illegally while they are awaiting clearance to work with a pending K-1 visa. Working illegally is a violation of your visa status—and if you're not in valid visa status, you're not eligible to adjust status and get a green card. Consult an immigration attorney for details.

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