If you currently live in the United States and want to work for a U.S. employer while your family-based green card application (Form I-485) is pending, you need a work permit first. For example, you might have applied for a green card after marrying your U.S citizen spouse and want to work while your application processes.

The ability to work not only helps you financially support yourself and your family but can also be important to build, or continue to build, a U.S. work history. To work while you’re waiting for your green card application to process, you’ll need a work permit, which is also called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

One important thing to know is that you only need the work permit if you applied for a green card from within the United States. If you’re applying for a green card outside the United States, your work authorization begins after you enter the United States and receive your green card.

Unless you have some other immigration status that allows you to work (for example, you are on an H-1B visa), you must not do any sort of paid work until your work permit has arrived. USCIS takes working without a permit or authorization very seriously and could negatively impact your green card application.

Obtaining a work permit, known as Form I-765, is a relatively straightforward process and you can file it at the same time as your green card application.

The following sections answer common questions that you might have about Form I-765 and help guide you through what to expect.

Who is the work permit for?

If you are in the U.S. and you are applying for a family-based green card, have a K-1 fiancé visa, or are the spouse of a H-1B visa holder, then you may be able to apply for a work permit so you can work while you are in the U.S.. Students who are studying in the U.S. with a F-1 student visa may also wish to apply for a work permit.

Where can I find Form I-765?

You can find Form I-765 on the USCIS website. Generally, USCIS prefers that you type your information and then print the form, but you can handwrite, too. Just make sure it’s legible.

Where do I file Form I-765?

The processing location depends on your nationality and the type of visa that you are currently on in the United States. Make sure that you check out the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization page of the USCIS website for more information.

When and how to apply for a work permit

You can file Form I-765 with your green card application (Form I-485) or after USCIS sends you a notice confirming that it has received your green card application. One advantage of applying for a work permit at the same time as your green card is that you only need to include a completed Form I-765 and two passport-sized photos.

If you’ve already submitted your green card application, you can still apply for a work permit by filing Form I-765 and include the notice from USCIS that shows your green card application (including the I-485 filing fee) was received.

Make sure that you carefully read and follow instructions for Form I-765. As mentioned in the previous question, you must make sure that you send your application to the correct service center. Look up which service center is the correct one by checking out the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization page of the USCIS website.

What documents do I submit with my application?

If you are submitting a work permit application with a green card application, you only need to include Form I-765 and two passport-sized photographs.

However, if you’re submitting a work permit application after you applied for a green card and received notice from USCIS that it is processing it, then you’ll need the following documents:

  • Copy of your I-94 travel record (front and back), if available, or a printout of your electronic I-94 obtained from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Copy of your U.S. visa
  • Copy of your passport photo page
  • If you have had any other U.S. work permits, include copies of them (front and back)
  • Two 2-inch-by-2-inch passport-style photos of yourself (print your full name and Alien Registration Number on the back of each with a pencil or felt-tip pen)
  • Copy of receipt notice (the official letter) from USCIS that your green card application (Form I-485) is pending, but only if:
    • Your sponsor is a green card holder
    • Your sponsor is a U.S. citizen and you’re applying for a work permit after submitting your green card application (which would be unusual)
  • If you have not been issued a work permit before, you must also submit a copy of one of the following forms of government-issued identification:
    • Birth certificate and a photo ID
    • Copy of a visa (a document placed in your passport) that was issued by the consulate of a country other than the United States
    • Other national identity document with your photo and/or fingerprint

Who is not eligible for a work permit?

If you’re eligible for a family-based U.S. green card, then you are eligible for a work permit while the green card processes. However, you must have a pending green card application; in other words, you can’t just apply for a work permit, without applying for a green card, too.

Does it take a long time to process a work permit?

The processing timeline depends on which service center processes your work permit. You can check the average processing times on the USCIS website. With COVID-19 and delays in all immigration cases, you can expect significant wait times, depending on your location.

What are the main reasons that you can be denied a work permit?

Typically, there are two primary reasons that your work permit could be denied.

The first is if you filled out the work permit application form (I-765) incorrectly, forgot to sign it, or left out a required element (for example, if you applied for the work permit after your green card application, and you failed to include a copy of the original USCIS receipt notice). This is why you should make sure you fill in the form online and type, not handwrite, your information.

The second, less common reason for denial is that your green card application is processed so quickly that you already have an approved green card before your work permit application is processed. If you have an approved green card, you don’t need a work permit any more.

I have a work permit already. Is that a problem?

It’s not uncommon for someone to already have a work permit when applying for a green card. For example, you came to the United States as a student or through a temporary work visa (for example, an H1-B) and you fell in love with your spouse in the United States. If you are already working in the United States on a valid H-1B visa, through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for recent graduates, or through any other work visa, then you don’t have to stop working just because you’re applying for a green card.

But, you should still submit an application for a work permit when you apply for your green card. It’s not an issue to have two different work permits at the same time. However, the work permit for a green card application is not employer-based, which means that you can change your employer or even start your own business. In most cases, a work permit while waiting for a green card is often an upgrade to the one you currently have.

What if my green card application takes a long time and my work authorization is expiring?

Work permits issued through the adjustment of status (AOS) process are valid for two years. Fortunately, you can apply for a renewal work permit as early as 180 days (6 months) before your current one expires. Make sure that you renew it as early as possible, even if you expect that your green card will be approved before your current work permit expires.

If your work permit expires and your green card hasn’t been approved, then you have to take a long vacation from any paid work, including a business you started, and apply for a work permit from the beginning.

To renew your work permit, you will file another Form I-765 with a copy of the USCIS receipt notice showing that you have a pending green card application. You’ll also need to include a copy of your current work permit and two passport-sized photos. Renewal work permits generally take about 150 days (or longer) to process. Make sure that you start the renewal process early.

What happens after I get my work permit?

You’ll need to get a Social Security number (SSN) as soon as you get your work permit. Although, if you already have one from previously working in the United States, then this process doesn’t apply. This is done when you apply for the work permit, and the Social Security Administration will then send you your SSN when your work permit is approved.

When you start work, your employer will ask you to complete an I-9 form and show proof that you are allowed to work in the United States. You’ll be required to pay payroll and income taxes in the United States, just like everyone else. Failure to pay required taxes can result in many serious penalties and can jeopardize any future application for U.S. citizenship.