Work Authorization in the U.S.: Understanding the EAD

Understanding the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is pivotal for those navigating the U.S. immigration landscape and seeking to legally work within its borders. The EAD, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), serves as official authorization for eligible individuals to engage in employment activities in the United States for a specified period.

In this article, we’ll help those seeking legal employment within the United States by explaining the process of obtaining an EAD.

What Is an Employment Authorization Document?

An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a government-issued document that allows certain noncitizens to legally work in the United States for a specific period of time. It is commonly referred to as a work permit. The EAD is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and it typically includes the individual’s name, photograph, and other identifying information, along with an expiration date.

Individuals who are eligible for an EAD include certain categories of immigrants, refugees, and nonimmigrants who are authorized to work in the U.S. temporarily. For example, beneficiaries of certain types of visas, such as students on F-1 visas with Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, asylum seekers, spouses of certain visa holders, and individuals with pending adjustment of status applications may be eligible to apply for an EAD.

Having an EAD allows individuals to legally work in the U.S., and it is often required by employers as part of the hiring process to verify an individual’s authorization to work.

Who Needs an Employment Authorization Document?

Several categories of individuals may need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to legally work in the United States. Some of these include:

  • Certain Immigrants – Some immigrants who are in the United States temporarily and are authorized to work, such as those with pending adjustment of status applications or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, may need an EAD.
  • Refugees and Asylees – Refugees and individuals granted asylum in the United States may need an EAD to work legally.
  • Certain Nonimmigrants – Certain categories of nonimmigrants, such as spouses of certain visa holders (e.g., H-4 spouses), individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and certain students with Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, may need an EAD to work during their authorized stay in the U.S.
  • Victims of Human Trafficking and Other Crimes – Victims of certain crimes, including human trafficking, and their immediate family members may be eligible for employment authorization.
  • Other Special Categories – Other special categories designated by the U.S. government may also require an EAD for employment authorization.

It’s important to note that not everyone in the United States who is authorized to work requires an EAD. For example, U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), and certain other categories of individuals do not need an EAD to work in the country. However, for those who fall into the categories mentioned above, obtaining an EAD is often a necessary step to legally work in the United States.

What Is the Process to Obtain an Employment Authorization Document?

The process to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) typically involves the following steps:

  1. Determine Eligibility – Determine if you are eligible for an EAD based on your immigration status, visa category, or other qualifying criteria. Eligibility criteria can vary depending on your specific situation.
  2. Complete Form I-765 – Obtain and complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. This form is available on the official website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  3. Gather Required Documents – Gather supporting documents required for your EAD application. These may include copies of your passport, visa, I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, immigration documents proving eligibility for employment authorization, and any other supporting evidence.
  4. Prepare Supporting Materials – Prepare any additional materials required for your application, such as passport-style photographs, filing fees (if applicable), and any other supporting evidence requested on Form I-765.
  5. Submit the Application – Mail your completed Form I-765, along with all required supporting documents and fees (if applicable), to the appropriate USCIS address. Be sure to follow the instructions provided with the form and check the USCIS website for the most current mailing address.
  6. Wait for Processing – Once USCIS receives your application, they will process it and adjudicate your request for an EAD. Processing times can vary depending on the USCIS workload and other factors. You can check the current processing times on the USCIS website.
  7. Receive Decision – USCIS will notify you of their decision on your EAD application. If approved, you will receive your EAD in the mail. The EAD will include your photograph, name, and other identifying information, along with the dates of validity.
  8. Start Working – Once you receive your EAD and it is valid, you can legally start working in the United States as authorized by the document.

It’s important to carefully follow all instructions provided by USCIS and ensure that you submit a complete and accurate application to avoid delays or issues with your EAD request.

Common Problems Obtaining an Employment Authorization Document

Obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) can sometimes be a straightforward process, but there are several common problems that applicants may encounter:

  • Processing Delays – USCIS processing times can vary, and delays are not uncommon. Some applicants may experience longer processing times than the standard posted processing times due to various factors such as USCIS workload, staffing issues, or increased demand for EADs.
  • Missing or Incomplete Documentation – Failure to submit all required documentation or incomplete forms can result in delays or even denials of EAD applications. It’s essential to carefully review the application instructions and ensure all required documents are included before applying.
  • Filing Fees – Some applicants may be required to pay filing fees when submitting their EAD applications. Failure to include the correct fee or fee waiver request can lead to delays or rejection of the application. It’s crucial to verify the current filing fee and payment method accepted by USCIS.
  • Incorrect Form Version – USCIS periodically updates forms, including Form I-765 used to apply for an EAD. Using an outdated version of the form can result in rejection or processing delays. Applicants should always use the most recent version of the form available on the USCIS website.
  • Addressing Changes – USCIS requires applicants to provide a valid mailing address where they can receive correspondence regarding their application. Failure to update USCIS with any address changes can result in important notices being sent to the wrong address, leading to missed deadlines or opportunities to respond to requests for additional information.
  • Biometric Appointment Scheduling – In some cases, applicants may be required to attend a biometric appointment to provide fingerprints, photographs, and signatures as part of the EAD application process. Scheduling issues or missed appointments can delay the processing of the application.
  • Ineligibility or Inadmissibility – Some applicants may discover that they are ineligible for an EAD due to their immigration status, criminal history, or other factors. In such cases, applicants may need to explore alternative options or seek legal assistance to address their situation.
  • Lost or Stolen EAD – If an issued EAD is lost, stolen, or damaged, applicants may need to apply for a replacement EAD, which can involve additional paperwork and processing time.

It’s essential for applicants to carefully review the requirements and instructions provided by USCIS, seek legal advice if necessary, and ensure all necessary documentation is submitted correctly to minimize the risk of encountering these common problems.

Understanding the EAD

In conclusion, obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a crucial step for many individuals seeking to legally work in the United States. By understanding the intricacies of the EAD process, applicants can navigate potential challenges and streamline their applications effectively.

However, it is essential to remain vigilant of common pitfalls such as processing delays, incomplete documentation, or addressing changes in personal circumstances. By adhering to USCIS guidelines, staying informed about current filing procedures, and seeking legal guidance when necessary, applicants can enhance their chances of a successful EAD application. Ultimately, the EAD serves as a vital tool in enabling individuals to contribute to the U.S. workforce, pursue educational opportunities, and build fulfilling lives in the country, embodying the principles of inclusivity and opportunity upon which the nation was founded.