An Employment Authorization Document, or EAD, is a special type of document available to certain visa holders. This document permits the visa holder to work – even when the visa would otherwise prohibit you from working.

Certain visas are designed to bring individuals to the United States for reasons other than work. You might be joining the family in the United States, for example. With an EAD, you can legally work in the United States even if you do not specifically have a work visa.

There are two types of work permits available to non-residents of the United States:

  • Permanent U.S. work permit
  • Non-immigrant visa U.S. work permit

An EAD is specifically designed for non-immigrant visitors to the United States. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the EAD and how it works.

How Does a Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Document Work?

A non-immigrant employment authorization document (EAD) allows you to work at any legal position in the United States while visiting the country on a non-immigrant visa.

An ordinary non-immigrant visa does not permit you to work in the United States. Unless you are arriving in the United States specifically to work – say, on an employer-sponsored H-1B visa – then your visa may not permit you to work in the United States. That’s when you would consider getting an EAD.

You apply for an EAD. Once your EAD is approved, you will receive the document. It looks like a driver’s license – but for work. You can show your EAD to a prospective employer to prove that you have permission to work in the United States.

If you are in the United States with a non-immigrant visa but do not have an Employment Authorization Document, then you may not be permitted to work. If you work in the United States without obtaining an EAD, then you may be deported.

Some of the most common visa holders who require an EAD include students in the United States and dependents (spouses and children) of U.S. work visa holders. Green card holders (lawful permanent residents) do not require an EAD. Your green card is sufficient proof that you are authorized to work in America.

Employment Authorization Document Requirements

Not all non-immigrant visa holders qualify for an employment authorization document (EAD). The document is only available to visa holders that meet the following requirements:

  • You are an asylum seeker or refugee in the United States
  • You are a dependent (spouse or child) of an asylum seeker or refugee in the United States
  • You are a dependent (spouse or child) of someone holding a non-immigrant (say, a traditional work visa)
  • You are a family-based non-immigrant in the United States on a fiancé visa or K-3 visa, among other visas

Who Needs to Apply for an EAD?

Not all non-immigrants or immigrants in the United States require an EAD.

You do not need to apply for an EAD if you are a lawful permanent resident of the United States (i.e. a green card holder). Your green card is sufficient evidence that you are legally able to work in the country.

You also do not need to apply for an EAD if you have a non-immigrant visa authorizing you to work for a specific employer (like an H-1B, L-1B, O, or P visa).

The following groups of people do, however, require an EAD to work in the United States legally:

  • You need an EAD if you are authorized to work in the United States because of your immigration status (say, if you’re an asylum seeker, a refugee, or a US non-immigrant) and need evidence of employment authorization
  • You need an EAD if you are required to apply for permission to work and need proof of employment authorization, including if you:
  • Have a pending Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Have a pending Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal
  • You have a non-immigrant status that allows you to be in the United States but does not allow you to work in the United States without first seeking approval from USCIS (say, as an F-1 or M-1 student visa holder)

Now that you have determined whether or not you need an EAD, let’s take a closer look at the EAD application process.

How to Apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

Step 1) File Form I-765

Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, is the main form you need to file to receive your EAD. You can find the form on the website of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Download the form and complete it accurately. The form asks basic personal information, including specific information for different visa categories. Based on your answers and your visa category, you may need to provide different documents.

Step 2) Attach Supporting Documents

Most EAD applicants will need to attach extensive documents to their application to be qualified to work. These documents prove your legal status in the United States and demonstrate that you are legally allowed to work in the country. Supporting documents that may be required include:

  • Form I-94, Arrival/Departure record, including a copy of the front and back of the form
  • A copy of your last EAD, if you have previously been issued one
  • A copy of your government-issued ID (like a passport or license) if you have not previously been issued an EAD
  • Two identical passport-style photos of yourself that were taken within 30 days of beginning your EAD application
  • USCIS may request other documents based on your visa category.

Step 3) Pay the Fee and Attach Receipts

Your EAD application comes with approximately $500 worth of fees. You must pay the fees and attach the receipts to your application to continue. Your EAD will not be processed until you prove you have paid your fees.

Please note that certain categories of visa holders are exempt from paying this filing fee.

Step 4) Submit the Application

Once you have completed Form I-765 and attached all supporting documents, it’s time to submit the application. You can submit the application online through the USCIS e-filing process. Or, you can mail it to USCIS. Even if you apply online, you may need to mail certain supporting documents to USCIS.

How Long Does It Take to Process My EAD?

It takes as long as 90 days to process an average employment authorization document (EAD) application.

If your EAD is denied, then you will receive a notice explaining the reason you were not an eligible candidate. Otherwise, your EAD card should arrive in the mail within 90 days of submitting your application.

Once you have your EAD, it should remain valid for one year, after which you can renew it an indefinite number of times (although some visas restrict the number of times you can renew your EAD).

With your EAD, you can legally work any job in any field in the United States. You can apply for jobs as you normally would and work as an ordinary employee in an organization.

EAD Costs

There are two main fees to pay with your employment authorization document (EAD) application:

  • Filing fee ($410)
  • Biometrics fee ($85)

Altogether, your employment authorization document application costs $495. You can pay the fee online during your EAD e-application. Or, you can mail a check to USCIS.

Not All EAD Applicants Need to Pay the Fee

As mentioned above, not all visa holders are required to pay this fee. Some categories are exempt, including:

  • Asylum seekers, refugees, or those paroled as refugees
  • N-8 and N-9 non-immigrant visa holders
  • Citizens of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Those granted withholding of deportation
  • U-1 non-immigrant visa holders
  • Dependents of those visiting the United States as part of a foreign government, international organization, or NATO
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners

Meanwhile, if you do not fall into any of the above categories, then you can request a fee waiver from USCIS in certain situations. A fee waiver may be granted if:

  • You have supporting documents proving you or someone you live with is currently receiving a “means-tested benefit”
  • Your annual household income is less than 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time of your filing
  • You are experiencing financial hardships that prevent you from paying the fees, including unexpected medical bills or similar emergencies

A “means-tested benefit program” can include programs like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Certain programs do not qualify as means-tested programs, including Medicare, Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student financial aid/grants/loans, and retirement, survivors, and disability insurance (RSDI). If you are receiving assistance from any of these programs, then you do not automatically qualify for the EAD fee waiver.

Not All EAD Applicants Need to Pay the Biometrics Fee

Meanwhile, only three groups of people will pay the biometrics fee, including:

  • Individuals requesting consideration for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • Those who have been approved for an employment-based immigrant petition and have compelling circumstances
  • Spouses or unmarried dependent children of beneficiaries who have approval for an employment-based immigrant petition with compelling circumstances

If you meet the above categories, then you may wish to file Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. You will need to attach supporting documents to the form to prove you are eligible for the fee waiver.

How Long Does My EAD Last?

Typically, an EAD lasts for up to one year.

When your EAD is nearing its expiry date, you must file a renewal (if you wish to continue working). Your renewal can be filed within 180 days of the expiry date of your EAD.

Some types of visas allow you to renew your EAD as many times as you like. Other visas only allow you to renew your EAD once.

Additionally, if your EAD is lost, stolen, or destroyed, then you may request a replacement EAD by filing a new Form I-765 and filing fee (if required).

Ultimately, many non-residents of the United States require an employment authorization document (EAD) to prove they are legally able to work in the country. Many student visa holders require an EAD, for example, as do the dependents of other non-immigrant visa holders. The EAD application process is straight forward. Once you receive your EAD, you can legally work at any job in the United States in any field.