Immigration & Naturalization Law
Can I Work in the U.S. if I Am Not a Citizen or a Permanent Resident?
A foreign individual who is neither a United States citizen nor a legal permanent resident may wish to work in the U.S.
To work here, you need an employment authorization document and to meet the requirements imposed by your visa and immigration status.
Employers in the United States are also required by immigration law to verify whether you are authorized to work in the country. You should keep these records.
You are required to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work in the U.S. if you fall within certain categories, including:
You can find a complete listing of these categories on Form I-765, or the Application for Employment Authorization, which you must fill out in order to apply for an EAD.
Most foreign nationals who are not yet citizens or residents and live in the United States need an EAD. This is a work permit issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
However, applying for the EAD to work in the U.S. legally depends on your immigration status. In the following cases it is possible:
- Temporary workers: You have some type of visa for non-immigrant temporary work. The most common are: H-1B, H2, H-2B, H3, E, L-1, J1, O, P, and R.
- Permanent workers: You have an immigrant visa based on employment, such as Eb1, Eb2, Eb3, Eb4, or Eb5.
- Students: If you have an F-1, M-1, or J-1 student visa, you can work if an OPT or CPT application is approved. Your college has to help you process your EAD. J-1 students need to complete additional steps.
- Asylees and refugees: You can apply for an EAD to work when your request is approved (final or conditional), or if 150 days have passed and your case has not been decided, then you can also ask for permission to work.
- TPS: If you are in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), you may qualify for an EAD.
- DACA: People who are protected under the Program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) can also apply for an EAD and work, even if they are not citizens or permanent residents.
- Personal or domestic assistants: Foreign individuals who come to the U.S. accompanied by another foreign national, U.S. citizen, or permanent resident and serve as domestic assistants or employees may also need an EAD.
You should be aware that working in the U.S. also involves assuming tax responsibilities. If you generate income, you will most likely have to file federal as well as state income taxes if you live in a state that requires it.
In some cases, you might need a temporary work visa instead of an EAD. These are immigration visas that permit a limited stay of employment in the U.S. They come in different types and apply to various occupations.
Some of these you may be able to obtain on your own, while others must be obtained through a petition by an employer on your behalf.
Congress created the immigration laws with an eye toward foreign workers not displacing Americans from the workforce. Note that visa processing is typically quicker for highly skilled workers than for those with less education and skills.
The first thing to do is determine if you qualify for temporary work authorization. Then the following steps must be taken:
- Complete and submit Form I-765
- The form and documents must be submitted to USCIS
- The shipping address depends on your type of application and immigration status
- Pay the filing fee of $410
- Include any additional information they ask for, which varies depending on your status
After submitting the EAD request, you will then receive:
- Confirmation notice that the application was received
- Date for biometric services and an appointment for an interview (in some cases)
- A letter with the final decision
You should know that U.S. employers are not allowed to hire foreign workers who are not authorized to work in the U.S.
Most companies ask for a work permit. If you have questions or problems securing a work permit, an immigration attorney may be able to help you in many ways:
- Guide you on what type of visa or immigration status you can have to work in the U.S.
- Advise you during the work permit application process (EAD)
- Tell you if you can change your immigration status to another that allows you to work
- Explain if you have options to achieve permanent residency (green card)
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