Most immigrants require a work permit in order to work legally in the United States. A work permit is a government-issued document obtained through filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
As an immigrant, you may be eager to start working to support yourself and your dependents. However, you can’t legally work without work authorization from the U.S. government. Working without a permit is illegal and can lead to fines or jail terms.
Even if you have already applied for the permit, you should wait until you receive the Employment Authorization Document before accepting any job offers. Luckily, processing a work permit doesn’t take too long, like most immigration petitions and documents.
Here’s an overview of the processing timeline of Form I-765 and everything you need to know about it.
Form I-765 Eligibility
Your eligibility for a work permit depends on your immigration status. Generally, immigrants with a tourist visa (B-1 visa) and undocumented or illegal immigrants don’t qualify for a work permit.
Eligible immigrants who can apply for a work permit include:
- K-1 Fiancé Visa holders;
- recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program;
- refugees and asylum seekers, including their spouses and children;
- some exchange visitors;
- individuals with extraordinary abilities and achievements (O-1 Visa holders);
- individuals on a diplomatic mission on behalf of international organizations;
- spouses of some visa holders;
- immigrants with a pending Adjustment of Status application;
- some F-1 student visa holders experiencing financial hardship;
- temporary workers;
- M-1 students seeking practical training after completing their studies; and
- immigrants with Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Some immigrants don’t need a separate work permit to get a job in the U.S. because their visas allow them to work. They include;
- green card holders;
- U.S. citizens through naturalization; and
- employment visa holders (H-1B, L-1, E-3, E Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor visas).
How Long Does It Take to Get a Work Permit?
On average, it takes between 5 to 7 months (150–210 days) for USCIS to process a work permit (Form I-765). The processing time also varies depending on the specific service. Below are the processing times for different USCIS service centers in 2022.
- Nebraska service center: 4 to 9.5 months;
- California service center: 7.5 to 14.5 months;
- National benefits center: 8 to 12 months;
- Potomac service center: 3 to 11 months;
- Texas service center: 1.5 to 12.5 months;
- Vermont service center: 6 to 11 months;
Here are the steps involved in processing a work permit:
Submitting Work Permit Form I-765
You can file your application electronically or by mail at the USCIS Regional Service Center or Lockbox. Depending on your eligibility category, the mailing address may be different.
You must fill out your application accurately and attach all the supporting documentation needed. They include the following documents:
- two passport-sized photos, taken within 30 days of filing;
- a copy of your current passport;
- copies of documents indicating your current immigration status;
- a copy of Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Document;
- copies of documents indicating your current immigration status; and
- other documents as required under your immigration category.
If you are a first-time applicant, you may also be required to submit a copy of your national identity document, such as a driver’s license.
After submitting your perfectly-completed application, the USCIS will send you a Receipt Notice within 2 or 3 weeks of the filing date. The notice will contain a receipt number that you may use to follow up on the progress in processing your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card online.
Request for More Information
If your application misses some information or supporting documents, the USCIS may request additional information before processing your work permit. The USCIS may also decide to invite you for an interview at a USCIS office close to you. Failing to provide more evidence or attending the interview may lead to a rejection, which may also affect your stay in the U.S.
The USCIS may reject your application if you fail to sign the form or attach the required documents. Such mistakes can also delay the processing of an EAD card.
EAD Waiting Time
The EAD waiting time keeps changing from time to time depending on various factors. Some of these factors include:
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office
Some USCIS offices receive more applications than others, depending on the immigrant populations in those locations. Unfortunately, you can’t file Form I-765 in any USCIS service center of your choice, which means you will have to wait in line before receiving your permit.
USCIS backlogs may result from various factors such as newly-passed laws impacting the immigration procedures and forced office closures due to Covid 19. As a result, you may have to wait longer than usual before receiving your work permit. When renewing an EAD card, plan to submit your application as early as 180 days (6 months) before your current work permit expires.
Some applications filed concurrently with Form I-765 may inherently delay the processing time of the EAD card. In such a case, you will have no choice but to wait until the processes are complete.
Receiving Your Employment Authorization Document
If the USCIS accepts your EAD application, they may mail the card to your address or request you to collect it from their offices. If your application was unsuccessful, the USCIS will send you a notice explaining the reasons for the denial. Some of these reasons include:
Inaccurately-Filed Form I-765
Form I-765 isn’t as complicated as most immigration petitions. However, if you have problems completing the form, you may seek the assistance of your attorney or an interpreter.
Missing Supporting Documents
The USCIS may request you to provide additional documents to support your application. However, if they can’t make an informed decision based on the documents you provide, they may reject your application.
No Need for a Separate EAD card
Another reason for work permit denial is if you don’t need a separate work permit to work in the U.S. For example, if you received your green card after filing Form -I 765, the USCIS will deny your application.
This is because once you become a green card holder, you don’t require a work permit to seek employment in the U.S.
Work permits are valid and renewable after a year. Once it expires, you can’t continue working before renewing the card. Luckily, you don’t have to wait until the card expires before requesting a renewal work permit. You can renew the permit four months before the expiry date.
The renewal process is similar to the application process, although it may take a shorter period to process.
Form I-765 FAQs
We’ve answered some of the common questions about Form I-765 below.
Can I Work While My Form I-765 Is Pending?
The simple answer is no. Even if there’s no reason why your application should be denied, you shouldn’t accept any employment offers before receiving your work permit.
Can I Work If I Have an I-765 Receipt?
If you receive a Notice of Action from the USCIS confirming that your application was approved, you can’t use it as evidence of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. You will have to wait until you receive your work permit before you can start working,
However, the USCIS previously allowed some immigrants to use the notice as evidence for eligibility to work due to delays caused by huge backlogs during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Can I Apply for SSN With an EAD Approval Notice?
Yes, you can apply for your social security number and employment authorization document concurrently. Once you receive your EAD card, you’ll receive it within seven business days later.
Can I Work Without a Social Security Number?
Unlike with the EAD, you can start working without an SSN if you haven’t received one yet. Your employer can request a letter from the Social Security Administration offices confirming that you are eligible to work and that you already requested a Social Security Number.
Your work permit application Form I-765 processing time can be shorter if you accurately fill out the form and submit all the required supporting documents. To avoid systemic delays during renewals, you should also plan to file Form I-765 at least 180 days before the permit’s expiry date.