March 29, 2021

How Long Does It Take to Get a Work Permit? I-765 Processing Times + Tips

When you want to work in the U.S., it’s important to understand that every employer in the United States must confirm that you’re legally allowed to work there. 

You'll have to apply for a work permit if you’re not a citizen, a permanent resident, or have a specific work visa. To receive a work permit, you must submit an application for employment to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While many people have difficulty applying for a work permit and are unclear of how to ensure they're approved the first time. Here’s how you can become authorized to work in the U.S.

What Is a Work Permit and Is It the Same Thing as a Green Card?

Work permits allow non-Americans to work within the country and receive compensation. You may wonder if a work permit is the same as a green card. The short answer is no.

A green card and a work permit are two very different documents. You can only work legally in the United States with a work permit or Employment Authorization Card. While a green card or a permanent residence card allows you to live, work, and travel within the country.

If your goal is to live within the United States, then it’s essential for you to apply for a green card. But, if you only want to work within the country, then the work permit will allow you to do this.

Categories of Workers Permitted in the U.S.

There are various categories of people who can work in the United States. These categories include:

  • U.S. citizens
  • Non-citizen U.S. nationals
  • Lawful permanent residents
  • Non-residents and non-citizens who have work authorization

There are three types of non-resident, non-citizen workers who can obtain authorization to work in the U.S.; these are:

  • Temporary (non-immigrant) workers. Temporary workers are people who enter the U.S. for a specific purpose. They come to the United States for a set time period and can only perform activities pertaining to why their visa was issued.
  • Permanent (immigrant) workers. Permanent workers are immigrants who can legally live and work in the U.S.
  • Students and exchange visitors. Under some circumstances, students and exchange visitors can obtain eligibility to work in the U.S. while they are there.

Who Needs an I-765 Form?

You may be surprised that only some can apply for the I-765 form and be approved. Specific criteria must be met for those who wish to work in the United States. Below are those who are eligible to file the I-765 form:

  • Applicants for adjustment of status who have a pending application
  • Extensions of OPT and STEM OPT for post-completion F-1 students
  • Asylum seekers whose applications are pending
  • Renewing or applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • Applicants for T-visas and U-visas
  • Applicants that are applying for long-term resident status in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

The consular processing route is unavailable for applying for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Therefore, for your work authorization in the United States, you'll need to wait for your green card.

Is There an I-765 Filing Fee?

Yes, there are filing fees for the I-765 form. The total amount for the I-765 form is $410. Also, there is an $85 biometric fee if you meet one of the four criteria below:

  • Applying for DACA
  • When you have a compelling reason to immigrate based on employment
  • Applicants who have compelling circumstances and are spouses or unmarried children of the petitioner
  • A long-term resident applicant for the CNMI

If you meet the last two criteria above, there is no waiver for the biometric fee. You must pay this fee along with the I-765 filing fee. 

The I-765 fee is payable with a check, money order, or credit/ debit card. Also, if you receive an I-765 denial status after filling, there will be no fee refund.

When to Apply for an EAD Card

You can apply for your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card at the same time as applying for a green card for no additional fees. If you’ve already submitted an application for your green card, you can also still apply for your EAD card by sending in the required form along with a copy of the USCIS notice showing they received your green card application.

Getting a Work Permit in the U.S.

Getting your EAD card/work permit in the U.S. means that you are legally allowed to work in the United States due to obtaining authorization from the USCIS. EAD cards are usually valid for one year, and they are renewable and replaceable. When applying for a work permit, you can request either:

  • Permission to accept an employment offer
  • Renewal of your EAD card
  • Replacement of a lost work permit

How Long Does an I-765 Take to Process?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions! How long is the form i-765 processing time?

Processing your I-765 Form used to be much faster, taking only about 90 days, but the USCIS has recently seen a growing backlog of applications, causing delays. After applying, you should expect to wait anywhere from five to seven months for an I-765 approval notice.

Related: Can You Work While Your Green Card Application is Pending?

Why Would You Be Denied a Work Permit in the United States?

There are two reasons that the USCIS might deny your work permit application. The first, and most common one, is that your application form got filled out incorrectly. Usually, this happens when you did not complete the application correctly, forget to include a required document or didn’t sign the application.

The more uncommon reason for a work permit to get denied is when your green card application got approved quickly before your EAD card had a chance to get processed. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not a bad problem to have -- once you obtain a green card, you’ll have no use for a work permit.

What Do I Need To Send With My I-765 Application?


Applying for a work permit requires you to file Form I-765 with the USCIS and include the following documents:

  • A copy of your I-94 travel record
  • A copy of your passport (with photo)
  • A copy of your United States visa
  • Two 2’ by 2’ recent photos of yourself with your Alien Registration Number and full name printed on the back)
  • Copies of any previous work permits

If this is the first time you’ve applied for an EAD card in the U.S., you’ll also need to provide one of the following:

  • A copy of your birth certification and photo ID
  • A copy of your visa issued by a country other than the U.S.
  • Any other national document showing your identity and photo or fingerprint

Where Do I Send My Form I-765?

All applications can be filed through an online portal or mailed to your region's USCIS service center. There are different mailing addresses according to eligibility categories. All of the information must be correct and attached to the supporting documentation. 

After submitting all the necessary documents, the USCIS sends a Receipt of Notice, usually in two to three weeks. Make sure to hold on to that notice: it contains the receipt number you will need to follow up on processing your EAD card from the online portal.

Preparing to Work in the U.S.

The most important thing to do after getting approved to work in the U.S. is to get a Social Security number before you begin working. Previously, you would have to file an entirely separate application with the Social Security office and wait for approval. As of late 2017, the USCIS updated the I-765 Form, allowing you to apply for your Social Security number and card through the EAD card application itself. 

When beginning your new job, your employer will have you fill out an I-9 form, and you’ll have to provide proof that you can legally work in the U.S. All you’ll need for this is your work permit and Social Security card. If you have those two things, you’re ready to start working!

How to Renew Your Work Permit

Once you’re working, it’s important to remember not to let your permit expire. If you forget to renew your EAD card on time, you’ll have to take a break from working until you get it renewed. You can renew your work permit up to six months in advance, and it’s important to start the process as soon as possible since it can take a long time for the USCIS to process the renewal application. To renew your EAD card, you’ll have to file another I-765 Form along with two passport-sized photos and a copy of your current EAD card.

Related: Green Card Renewals

Can I Work While the I-765 Is Pending?

With a work permit or a valid visa, finding any type of employment can be challenging. Many employers in the United States will ask for a visa or permit before offering a job. Even if you find employment, you cannot work while a work permit or I-765 is pending. Working without authorization puts your application and employer in a bad situation, meaning there could be legal consequences for all parties. It would be better to wait those few months to get your EAD instead of taking the risk of unauthorized employment that can cause issues with your immigration status.

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How Will USCIS Know If I Work Unauthorized Job? 

While it may seem easy to work a job without alerting the USCIS, the agency has ways to find out. In the digital age, it is easy to keep track of workers. There are several ways the agency can discover you have worked a job without authorization. Once they have found the violation, it leads to grievous consequences. Here are a few ways that the USCIS can detect you have worked at an unauthorized job:

Tax Records 

The USCIS can be aware of an unlawful job by tax document filings, like Form 1099. With that, the agency will see that you have received income from an employer. If you are employed, the business must report their workers' wages. While tax forms are the Internal Revenue Service's jurisdiction, the USCIS has the ability to request that information.

Internet Use

Social media use is prevalent. With that, almost every activity is shared with followers online. It only takes a simple search, and the USCIS can see posts and pictures of you. If you are posting about an unauthorized job, that can lead to troubles for you. Social media doesn't even have to involve your personal account. Coworkers or friends might share a picture of you at work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. What might seem harmless can lead to severe consequences. For that reason, you will want to limit any social media until after your application is approved. 

Coworker Can Report You

Some individuals are tempted to work "under the table." That means there is no record of them working for the employer, or they work under an assumed name with false documents. Often, the employer will pay in cash to avoid any documentation. However, you are always at risk of being reported by a coworker, neighbor, or another person. These situations can happen in companies with multiple employees. A simple report can lead to a USCIS investigation. 

What Happens if You Work Without an EAD Card?

a man working in a construction site

Even if you work for only a few hours without an EAD card, it can cause immigration problems in the future. That is, if you want to apply for a green card but have previously worked without authorization, the USCIS is much less likely to approve your green card application. Working without authorization can lead to you getting barred from entering the U.S. for anywhere from three to ten years, depending on the length of time you worked illegally.

There are other consequences of unauthorized employment in the United States; they include:

In some cases, removal proceedings can be initiated, especially if you have violated your status with unauthorized employment. If a person is found guilty, they risk facing deportation to their home country. 

Anyone on a student visa must also think twice about engaging in unlawful work. All foreign nationals must abide by the rules set forth on the visa, including complying with labor laws. Even volunteering could be considered unlawful work and make you ineligible to adjust or change your status. 

Additionally, unauthorized work can put a hold on any status adjustment, making a person ineligible for a green card. During the status adjustment, you will be asked about engaging in unauthorized work. If you lie, you have falsified information, but if you indicate working an unauthorized job, it jeopardizes your status. There are no-win scenarios when working an unlawful job. 

Engaging in any unauthorized employment will lead to visa cancellation. If you want to reapply at a future time, that unauthorized work will remain on your record.

It’s not worth the risk to work without authorization; an immigration attorney can help you successfully file for your EAD card to avoid any immigration issues in the future.

Related: U.S. Work Authorization: What You Need to Know

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