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Form I-765, Employment Authorization

Although a foreign national may have permission to come to the United States, it does not mean they have permission to work here. Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) may be available to certain nonimmigrants who are visiting the country. A nonimmigrant is someone who travels to the U.S. to stay for an extended period, but does not intend to live here permanently.

To begin the application process, most temporary aliens must file Form I-765. This is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Application for Employment Authorization. Upon approval, the worker receives an EAD card, which is also referred to as a work permit. In addition to granting legal working status, the EAD card also enables foreign workers to get a driver’s license or their Social Security Number (SSN). Most EADs are good for one year and must be renewed before they expire.

Determining EAD eligibility

Only certain groups of noncitizens may apply for employment authorization. These groups include but are not limited to

  • People who have applied for asylum, adjustment of status or temporary protected status
  • People granted a withholding of removal
  • Spouses and children of nonimmigrants who have a regular visa or J-1 status
  • Some students

People who do not need an EAD

If you hold US citizenship, have a green card, or are a conditional resident, you do not have to file Form I-765 to work. Your citizenship papers or green card serve as employment authorization.

Employees who have been granted permission to work for a specific employer do not need EAD either. For example, workers employed by foreign governments only need their passport and Form I-94 to work. Form I-94 is an USCIS Arrival/Departure Record.

Applying for a work permit

Each person applying for a work permit must provide their own Form I-765, fees, and documentation. Include these documents with your completed Application for Employment Authorization.

  • Fee payment in the form of a check or money order
  • A copy of your Nonimmigrant Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94), if available
  • If you are reapplying, a copy of your last or current EAD
  • Two passport-style color photographs. Each photo should measure 2x2 inches.

Depending on your eligibility category, you may need to provide additional documentation. This may include financial information, copies of other forms filed or in the process of filing, or other evidence that supports your current eligibility category or status. The instructions for Form I-765 provide a list of required documentation for each category.

Retain original documents

Copy all forms and documentation, including your check or money order. Except for your payment, do not send original documents. Instead, submit your copied documents to USCIS. Retain the copy of your payment method as proof you paid the correct fee.

Filling out Form I-765

You can download a free copy of Form I-765 from the USCIS website. Type your answers into the form, then save a copy and print it. If you cannot type your answers, print in black ink. You may not have an answer for some of the questions; do not leave them blank. USCIS prefers that you use NONE or N/A to fill in irrelevant questions.

Additional space for answers

Attach a separate sheet for responses that require more space. Write “I-765 Continuation Sheet” and your name at the top. If you have an alien registration number or I-94 number, include this information as well. Note which question you are responding to. Sign and date each continuation sheet.

Answering questions

Much of the form is self-explanatory. The following questions require careful consideration.

Question 9 – Social Security Number

List every SSN you have ever used, including numbers that did not belong to you.

Question 10 – Alien Registration Number or I-94 number

If you applied for immigrant benefits or are part of deportation proceedings, you have an Alien Registration Number (A-number). Look for it on any letters you received from U.S. Immigration. It will have the letter A, followed by an 8 – 9 digit number.

If you do not have an A-number, you can list your I-94 number instead. You can find your 1-94 number one of three ways.

  • Use your passport number to look it up on the US Customs and Border Protection website. You must have arrived by boat or plane after April 2013 to use this option.
  • Look for a white I-94 card stapled in your passport.
  • Check your approval notice if you received a status change; your I-94 is included in the approval notice.

You may have more than one I-94 number. Always use the most recent one. If you are undocumented or you are a Canadian tourist visiting by car, you will not have an I-94.

Question 11 – Reapplying for a work permit

If you previously applied for a work permit, look at the Form I-797 you received. It will list the USCIS office that approved or denied your application, as well as the date the office received your previous application. Use this information to answer Question 11.

Question 12 – Place of last entry

Your answer depends on how you arrived in the United States. If you came by plane, list the city where your plane first landed – where you went through border inspection. If you crossed the US border by land, name the border state you entered. If you know it, include the name of the border city as well.

Questions 14 and 15 – Arrival and current immigration status

These questions ask for your immigration status when you entered the US and now. If you know them, use the category numbers and letters on your visa. If you do not know them, use a general description like “student” or “visitor.” If you entered the US illegally, enter “no legal status” in these blanks.

Question 16 – Eligibility category

The instructions to Form I-765 list several eligibility categories. Each category is assigned a number. For example, the number for adjustment of status applicants is (c)(9). Enter this number in the three blank parentheses provided on the form. If your number only has two parts, leave the parentheses on the far right blank.

Filing Form I-765 with other forms

In many cases, you may have to file other forms before you submit Form I-765. For example, asylum applicants must wait 150 days after requesting asylum before they can apply for employment authorization documents.

However, people who fall into certain categories may be able to file other forms with the I-765. Examples of these categories include

  • Victims of criminal activity
  • Nonimmigrant spouse or dependent(s) of a US citizen
  • Individuals with Temporary Protected Status
  • Nonimmigrants waiting on immigrant visa approval
  • Medical professionals or scholars in the US for pre-completion optional practical training (OPT) or post-completion OPT

A full list is available in the I-765 form instructions.

Applying for employment authorization due to compelling circumstances

Because of the backlog for immigrant visas, USCIS added two categories for EAD eligibility. Category (c)(35) is for workers who have received permission to permanently work in the US and have E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or O-1 nonimmigrant status. Category (c)(36) applies to their qualifying spouse or children.

In both cases, the applicant must demonstrate that they face compelling circumstances that warrant temporary employment authorization. USCIS defines the following situations as compelling circumstances.

  • You or your dependent have a serious disability or illness
  • Your employer is retaliating against you
  • You have experienced substantial harm
  • Your employer will experience significant disruption if you are not allowed to work
  • You can provide other evidence of compelling circumstances

Applicants cannot have a felony or two misdemeanors on their record. They must also prove their identity and immigrant status. Once your application is approved, your employment authorization documents are good for one year. You can apply for renewal up to 180 days before your current EAD expires.

Employment Authorization for Abused Spouses

You may be eligible for special employment authorization if you are married to your abuser. Spouses of abusive A, E-3, G, or H non-immigrants can apply for EAD using Form I-765V. USCIS will not notify your spouse when you file. Having a work permit empowers you to seek safety and financial independence from your abuser.

To apply for this special employment authorization, you must prove that you or your child were battered or subject to extreme cruelty. You must also provide evidence of your US residence, immigration status, and marriage. You do not have to be married currently, provided your spouse died, or the marriage ended because of abuse. However, you only have two years after these events to file for this type of EAD.

Submitting your work permit application

Make sure you check over all forms and documentation before you submit them. USCIS may reject applications that are not properly signed and dated or do not include the appropriate fee. Include an English translation of any documents that are in a foreign language.

You may submit Form I-765 online. However, you will still have to mail in any supporting documents. You may also have to visit a USCIS office to provide biometric information like height, weight, and fingerprints.

The address for submitting your application and paperwork varies depending on your eligibility category; see I-765 form instructions for more details.

Applying for employment authorization documents can be complicated. If you have questions about the process or the type of documentation you need, ask an Expert. Get answers in an anonymous, one-on-one conversation from the convenience of your home.

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