Can I Work While My Green Card Application Is Pending?

Green card applicants who currently live in the United States and would like to work for a United States employer will need to apply for a work permit. A foreign national who is eligible for a green card application while already living in the U.S. files Form I-485 to attain lawful permanent residence status.

If the application is successful, the foreign national will have a lawful permanent resident status that allows them to live and work anywhere in the United States.

In the meantime, the foreign national with a pending green card application can apply for a work permit that permits them to seek employment while waiting for the U.S. government to award them with a green card.

This article will give you the basic knowledge of work permit application as a foreign national, eligibility for a work permit application, and everything you may need to know about working in the United States as a foreigner.

What Is A Work Permit?

A work permit is a personal identity card issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS bearing the photo of the owner, that allows them to seek employment in the United States. It is also referred to as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Foreign Nationals Eligible For A Work Permit In The United States

Not all foreign nationals living in the United States are allowed to work in the country. Non-U.S. citizens with the following statuses are allowed to apply for the permit in the U.S.:

Foreigners In The U.S. With Work-Based Visas

If you entered the United States with an employment-based visa, then you are eligible for a work permit. Examples of work visas issued to foreigners include:

H-1B Visa

This is a nonimmigrant type of visa given to foreigners with specialty skills. The employer who wishes to have a foreigner work for them in the specialty field is the one responsible for sponsoring the visa application.

L-1 Visa

This type of visa is for intracompany transfers in companies that have affiliates in the U.S. or would like to open up a branch in the U.S. The company has to sponsor the employee as well as petition the USCIS by filing Form I-129.

O-1 Visa

This work visa is for foreigners who have extraordinary abilities and expertise in a particular field of employment. The applicant must have an offer from the U.S. employer, who also files Form I-129 to the USCIS.

Foreigners In The U.S. Who Are Eligible For A Work Permit Without A Work Visa

The US Citizen and Immigration Services USCIS issue work permits to some categories of foreign nationals who do not have employment-based visas. If you are eligible, you must apply for a work permit before accepting any employment offers in the U.S. The following are the categories of foreigners who may apply for a work permit in the U.S:

K 1 Fiance Visa Holders

This visa is for a foreign fiancé of a US citizen who enters the United States for the purposes of marrying their U.S. citizen spouse within 90 days. The visa holder may apply for a work permit after entering the U.S. The USCIS cannot accept the application for a work permit when the K1 visa holder is still living abroad.

Foreigners With Pending Green Card Application

A foreigner who has a pending green card application after filing Form I-485 may apply for a work permit. The foreigner should do so before accepting any employment offers in the United States. Not all visas allow a non-U.S. citizen to apply for a work permit or a green card. If you marry a U.S citizen or a green card holder and the USCIS accepts your green card application, you may apply for a work permit. The foreigner must prove to the USCIS that they legally entered the U.S. before their application can be accepted.

Relatives Of US Citizens Living In The U.S.

If you are a relative of a U.S. citizen and living in the U.S., you may apply for a work permit if you would like to seek employment in the United States. Relatives of U.S. citizens may also apply for a green card to change their status. The application for a work permit for such a relative is typically part of the green card application. The USCIS will issue the applicant with the permit once their application is accepted.

Relatives Of US Green Card Holders Living In The U.S.

A relative of a green card holder must have a notice of green card acceptance from the USCIS before they can apply for a work permit. This is because the applicant must wait until there is a green card slot available for them to make the application. The foreigner will then be allowed to apply for a work permit while their green card application is pending.

There are more categories of foreigners who are eligible for the work permit as listed by USCIS in Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

How Long Does a Work Permit Application Process Take?

The work permit application process takes about five to seven months from the time the USCIS receives your application. The process begins by filing Form I-765 Work Permit Application. Initially, the permit’s processing time was about 90 days. The recent surge in applications has caused backlogs which have increased the processing time. USCIS keeps on updating the processing time on their website to keep you informed on the timeframe of the application process.

Read more | Form I-765 Processing Time

For relatives of U.S. green card holders, the wait is longer since they have to receive a green card number before they can submit this application. It may take between 19-25 months before they receive their work permit.

Documents Required For A Work Permit Application

USCIS requires identification documents, Form I-94 travel record (if available) and copies of other work permits (if applicable), to be attached to Form I-765. If you file this form along with your green card application, all you will require as an additional document is two US-style passport-size photos. If you have to wait for a green card number or a notification from the USCIS that your green card application has been received, your application will require all the documents requested by USCIS. The application must be submitted along with the green card application notice from USCIS.

Frequently Asked Questions About Working In The U.S. As A Foreigner

If you are a foreigner, you may have questions about what it is like working in the U.S. Here are samples of common questions often asked about this topic.

How Much Does A Work Permit Application Cost?

As of February 2021, a work permit application is free regardless of when you decide to apply for it. However, if you decide to use an immigration attorney to help you with your application, they may charge you an attorney’s fee.

What Type Of Employment Can I Seek With My Work Permit?

A family-based green card applicant can seek any type of employment with their work permit as long as the job is legal.

What Happens To My Work Permit When I Finally Receive My Green Card?

Your work permit will be terminated once you receive a green card. A family-based green cardholder is allowed to live and work anywhere in the U.S., hence, they will not need a work permit.

Can I Apply For My Work Permit While Living Abroad If I Have A Pending Green Card Application?

The U.S. government only issues an employment authorization document to an applicant with a pending green card application and lives in the U.S. You can only apply for a green card while living abroad and not a work permit.

Can I Travel Out Of The U.S. Without Nullifying My Green Card And Work Permit Application?

Yes, you can, but first, you will be required to apply for a travel permit, also known as Form I-131, Advance Parole Document. This travel permit allows you to travel abroad while waiting for your green card. If you leave the U.S. before your travel permit is approved, your green card application, including the work permit will be considered abandoned.

Read more | Form I-131 Processing Time


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