What Does a Work Permit Allow You to Do?

Updated on August 11, 2023
At a Glance: A work permit, also known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), is a card issued by the USCIS that allows foreign nationals to work legally in the U.S. It is required for individuals who are not on a work visa but want to work in the country. A work permit is beneficial for visa holders waiting for a green card or dependent visa holders. It grants permission to work without restrictions, but working without authorization can have serious consequences, including jeopardizing immigration applications and future entry into the U.S.

Are you in the U.S. and wondering whether you are allowed to work? Perhaps you are in the U.S. to study, and you’re looking for a part-time job to help fund your studies. Or you might be applying for a marriage-based green card, and you want to earn an income while your green card is being processed. 

Either way, you’ve heard about a work permit, and now you’re wondering, “what does a work permit allow you to do?”. Well, let’s take a look. 

What is a Work Permit?

A work permit, known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), is a simple card the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued to foreign nationals, which authorizes them to work in the U.S. If you have a work permit, you are allowed to legally work in the U.S. without restrictions or consequences.

You can apply for a work permit by filing a Form I-765 with the USCIS while you are in the U.S.

A work permit is extremely useful for visa holders who apply for a green card and want to work while waiting for their green card to be approved. It’s also handy for dependent visa holders such as H2 visa holders who wish to work while they are in the U.S. with their spouse.

If you are not in the U.S. on a work visa, you will need a work permit before you will be allowed to work. Just because you have a legal status that allows you to be in the U.S. doesn’t mean you can automatically work in the U.S. as well. In certain circumstances, you will have to apply for an Employment Authorization Document first.

Differences Between a Work Permit and a Work Visa

With a work visa, the primary purpose of the visa holder arriving and being in the U.S. is to work. With other visas, like a visitor visa, for example, the primary purpose of being in the U.S. is to visit and conduct other activities. A temporary U.S. work visa allows you to enter the U.S. to specifically come and work in the U.S. with no additional authorization being required.

A work permit (Employment Authorization Document), on the other hand, is a document issued by the USCIS to a visa holder who is in the U.S. for a purpose other than for work. This would be for a holder of a visa other than a work visa. The work permit authorizes the visa holder to work in the U.S. if they qualify.

There is a whole range of work visas available, each being for a specific purpose of travel or type of employment.

Here are the most common work visas:

  • H1B Visa – for Specialty Occupations Workers
  • H1B1 Visa – for Specialty Occupations Workers from Chile or Singapore
  • H2A Visa – for Temporary Agricultural Workers
  • H2B Visa – for Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers
  • E1 Visa – for Treaty Traders
  • E2 Visa – for Treaty Investors
  • E3 Visa – for Specialty Occupation Workers from Australia
  • TN Visa – for NAFTA professional workers from Canada and Mexico
  • P Visa – for Athletes, Artists, Entertainers
  • J Visa – for Exchange Visitors
  • R Visa – for Religious Workers

Who is Eligible for a Work Permit?

If you have one of the following visas or fall in one of the following categories, you will be eligible to apply for a work permit:

  • F1 students who want to do Optional Practical Training.
  • F1 students who need to work off-campus due to severe economic hardship.
  • F1 students who have been offered on-campus employment by a qualifying international organization.
  • B1 non-immigrant domestic servants of a non-immigrant employer.
  • B1 non-immigrant domestic servants of a U.S. citizen.
  • A dependent spouse of an E1 or E2 Treaty Trader or Investor.
  • A spouse or minor child in the U.S. on a J2 visa with their J1 Exchange Visitor spouse or parent.
  • If you are applying for Adjustment of Status.
  • Certain eligible dependents of employees of Diplomatic Missions, International Organizations, or NATO.
  • A spouse who is in the U.S. on an L2 visa with an L1 Intra Company Transferee.
  • A spouse in the U.S. on an H4 visa with their H1B Specialty Occupation worker spouse (but only in specific circumstances).
  • If you are eligible for a marriage-based green card and have a pending green card application (Form I-485).

This is not a closed list of visa holders who would be eligible for a work permit. There may be other circumstances that qualify, so if your situation doesn’t fit into the categories listed above, consider seeing an immigration attorney.

What Jobs Can You Have on a Work Permit?

This is where we get into the specific of “what does a work permit allow you to do”. It’s actually quite simple.

Generally, you can work for any U.S. employer in any type of job if you have a work permit. There aren’t any restrictions that apply to a work permit as long as the work you are doing is legal, and you are working on a valid Employment Authorization Document.

What Happens if You Work without a Work Permit?

Working in the U.S. without a work permit (i.e., without authorization) is no joke. Unless you have another immigration status that allows you to work in the U.S. (for example, an H1B visa), you must wait for your work permit to be issued before you start working.

If you are applying for a green card, it could jeopardize your entire green card application. When you apply for a green card, the USCIS will scrutinize your case, all your actions while in the U.S., and very specifically, the fact that you worked in the U.S. without an Employment Authorization Document. But it isn’t just your green card application you need to worry about.

One of the penalties for working in the U.S. without authorization is that you can be barred from entering the U.S. in the future. This bar can be for three or ten years, depending on how long you actually worked without a work permit.

Working without a work permit can also prevent you from getting another visa in the future. For example, if you were in the U.S. on a tourist visa and worked without a work permit, and you later want to apply for a student visa, the fact that you worked without the permit will make you ineligible for the student visa.

Remember, you need work authorization in the form of a work permit even for short-term and informal employment. Even just working for a few hours and getting paid for it without a work permit can have severe consequences for any future immigration attempts. So, don’t risk it!

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Now you know the answer to “what does a work permit allow you to do?”. Don’t risk working in the U.S. without a work permit. The consequences on your future immigration are just not worth it. Applying for a work permit is easy and quick, so if you need to get a job, simply file your Form I-765.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.