What is an EAD Card?

An Employee Authorization Document, or EAD Card, gives a person from another country legal authorization to work in the United States. Those who might need to obtain EAD cards include refugees, U non-immigrants, and those seeking asylum from other countries.

If an individual has a pending application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal (form I-589), or to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (form I-485), he or she may also need to apply for an EAD card. It is also necessary to apply if a person is an immigrant but under a status that doesn't allow for employment. Examples include F-1 and M-1 students.

Lawful permanent residents do not need to apply for EAD cards. The green card, also referred to as form I-551 or the permanent resident card, can be used as evidence of authorization to work legally. Some types of non-immigrant visas also allow holders to work. For example, L-1B, O, H-1B, or P visas allow the holders to work for a specific employer in the U.S.

To apply for an EAD card, an alien must complete and file form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Most EAD cards are valid for 1-2 years and will require renewal. Within six months of the expiration date, an EAD card holder will need to file a new form I-765 to renew the EAD card to continue working in the United States.

An EAD card application may also require payment of a fee to USCIS. The current fee is $410, plus $85 for biometrics (fingerprints). Those who do not have to pay the filing fee include:

  • Filing under Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Refugees
  • Paroled as refugees
  • Asylees
  • N-8 or N-9 non-immigrants
  • Citizens of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau
  • Those granted withholding of deportation
  • Victims of severe forms of trafficking
  • U-1 non-immigrants
  • Dependents of certain foreign governments, international organizations, or NATO personnel
  • Applicants for asylum
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners

Employers must make sure that all employees or potential employees are legally authorized to work in the United States before making an employment offer.

The card contains:

  • Name of the cardholder (last, first, middle)
  • Alien number
  • Birth date
  • Category under which the person received the EAD
  • Gender
  • Country of birth
  • Terms and conditions
  • Dates for which the authorization is valid

There are no maximums or limits on the number of EADs issued per year. 

Why is an EAD Card Important?

Without legal authorization to work in the U.S., it will be much harder to find a job and earn a living. Many employers will not hire people who can't work legally, since this could pose legal issues for their companies in the future. In fact, employers are legally obligated to check that all their employees are allowed to work in the country. An EAD card is the best option for aliens to prove they have the legal right to work in the U.S.

Reasons to Consider Not Using an EAD Card

If an application for an EAD card is denied, the applicant might still try to work in the U.S. illegally. But this will make it substantially more difficult to find a job. Employers who offer jobs to illegal residents may use questionable practices for paying and documenting their employees. Health and safety protections, such as OSHA, don't always cover those working in these conditions.

If an EAD card application is rejected, the applicant can appeal. But if the applicant doesn't receive a response within 90 days of filing the application, he or she can also file for an interim EAD card. The interim option allows for an individual to work while the official application is still in process. Those waiting under the asylum provision for an EAD card can file for an interim EAD card 30 days ater filing the initial application.

Those who do not need to apply for an EAD card include:

  • U.S. citizens
  • Lawful permanent residents
  • Conditional permanent residents
  • Those authorized to work for specific employers, such as foreign governments

These people are already legally authorized to work in the United States. EAD cards offer more limited freedom in terms of what holders can and can't do while in the country. So those looking to immigrate to the U.S. may consider a different type of immigration status so that they can travel freely and/or have more opportunities to bring other family members.

Some visas restrict the holders from working in the United States. Certain types of student visas only allow for education in the country, not employment. So those who hold visas that restrict employment may not be eligible for an EAD card under that visa status.

Reasons to Consider Using an EAD Card

Anyone who is seeking to immigrate to the United States for employment should consider using an EAD card. In many cases, it is easier to qualify for an EAD card than it is to qualify for an immigrant visa. The number of immigrant visas given is limited on an annual basis. This number is further limited based on how many people from a specific country can receive one. EAD cards are available to a wider range of non-immigrant categories.

The main categories for people seeking EAD cards include:

  • Those who hold a current employment authorization as a result of pending non-immigrant status
  • Those who hold authorization to work for a specific employer due to non-immigrant status
  • Those who seek asylum or refuge in the U.S.

o  Under this category, dependents and spouses can often qualify as well

  • Those who hold F-1 or M-1 student visas under certain categories
  • Spouses of exchange visitors
  • Those who are working on diplomatic missions or with international organizations, such as NATO
  • A non-immigrant with a family-based status, such as a K visa

New legislation now makes H4 holders eligible for employment authorization in the U.S. To qualify under the new requirements, H4 holders must have an approved I-40 form or be approved for H-1B status under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act

Deadline

To work legally at any job in the United States, the applicant must have legal authorization to work. Therefore, anyone who is looking to apply for a job should complete the process of filing for and obtaining an EAD card before starting a job. Employers in the U.S. should also hold off on hiring anyone who doesn't have the legal right to work. An employer might give a conditional employment offer contingent on the applicant's receipt of an EAD card.

What Could Happen When You Obtain an EAD Card?

When an applicant obtains an EAD card, he or she is then legally authorized to work at any job available in the United States. All the card holder will have to do is show proof of this status to the employer.

What Could Happen When You Don't Obtain an EAD Card?

Those who don't obtain EAD cards can either work illegally or not work in the U.S. If the person is already living in the U.S., not being able to work could put a significant financial strain on him or her, making it hard to pay for living expenses and live a comfortable life. Choosing to work without an EAD card puts the person at risk for working in poor conditions that may not be safe or healthy. Employers that hire illegal employees can also be at risk for legal penalties and fines.

Common Mistakes

One common mistake made by those applying for EAD cards is filling out the application incorrectly. Because there are several categories under which a person can qualify for an EAD card, people might choose the wrong one, leading to delays in processing or even rejection of the application.

Before submitting the form, it might help to work with an immigration specialist to make sure that all information is correct and accurate. While this does add some cost, it could save a lot of time and frustration.

If an EAD card has incorrect information due to USCIS error, the holder can request a new card be sent at no additional cost.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do I do if my EAD card is lost, stolen, or damaged?

For a lost, stolen, or damaged EAD card, the holder should fill out a new I-765 form and submit, along with any necessary filing fee. However, if the applicant never received the card in the mail, he or she can submit an inquiry with the USCIS.  

  • What is the difference between an EAD card and a green card?

The purpose of a green card is to identify someone who has legal permanent resident status. A green card lasts longer than an EAD card since it typically allows the holder to work for up to six years. An EAD card is generally valid for 1-2 years and requires more frequent renewal. Those who plan to work in the U.S. for a shorter period but don't necessarily intend to relocate permanently tend to choose the EAD card. A green card application takes longer but is best for those who do want to relocate permanently.

  • How long does it take to get an EAD card?

The USCIS has 90 days to process an application for an EAD card. An application that is pending authorization does not allow the applicant to work in the U.S. After 90 days, the applicant can request an interim EAD card to begin working before the process is compete.

  • Can I work in the U.S. with a work (H-1B) visa?

An H-1B visa is offered to someone who meets specific education and/or work experience criteria and has a job offer from a U.S. company. This visa does allow the holder to work, although he or she can only work in the specialized field and with the sponsoring institution. However, there is a limit on H-1B visas issued per year. The limit is 65,000, with an extra 20,000 allowed for individuals who hold master's degrees or higher or work at a non-profit research institution or university.

If the visa holder wishes to change employers, he or she would have to file an application for a new work visa.

Steps to File

The first step is filling out and submitting form I-765 to the USCIS. The application should include any required documentation and payment of fees. The USCIS has 90 days to process the application. After the 90-day period, an applicant can file for an interim EAD card to work while the process is still ongoing. Upon approval, the EAD card holder can begin working at any job immediately. 

Before the EAD card expires, the holder would need to file for a renewal to continue working in the U.S.

Review a sample I-765 form

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