What Does “Legally Authorized to Work in the United States” Mean?

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on May 28, 2023
At a Glance: Being “work authorized” means having the legal right to work in the United States. U.S. citizens can work freely, while foreigners need work authorization, typically in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Certain categories of non-citizens, including permanent workers, temporary workers, and student/exchange visitors, may be authorized to work in the U.S. EADs are obtained through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by submitting Form I-765. Renewal and replacement options are available for EAD cards.

With so many opportunities in the United States, many foreign nationals have been trying to get into the States and get a job there. Especially if their home countries don’t offer them the best opportunities, or don’t pay them enough for their work, they may be chasing American jobs.

However, one can only get a job if he/she is legally authorized to work in the United States.

What exactly does work authorization mean and who is allowed to work in the U.S.? Here is all you need to know.

What Does “Work Authorized” Mean?

Being work authorized means that you have the legal right to work in the United States. If you are a U.S. citizen, whether you were born in the States or naturalized, it means you can work in the U.S. with no issues. However, foreigners will only be allowed to work once their immigration status allows them to.

If someone wishes to work in the United States and they’re a foreigner, they will have to obtain work authorization. This is a document in the form of a card that allows a non-citizen or someone who isn’t a permanent resident to legally obtain a job in the States. The card is also known as EAD, which is short for an employment authorization document.

Someone with a green card will not require an EAD. The green card alone is proof that the individual is a permanent resident and has the right to work legally in the States.

Which Foreign Nationals Are Permitted to Work in the U.S.?

There are various categories of people who are permitted to work in the U.S. These include student/exchange workers, temporary workers, and permanent immigrant workers. As such, the categories of people permitted to work in the country include non-citizen nationals of the States, U.S. citizens, non-citizen, and non-residents authorized to work, as well as lawful permanent residents.

When it comes to non-citizen, non-resident workers that may be authorized to work in the U.S., here are the specific categories that will have rights:

  • Permanent Workers
  • Temporary Workers
  • Student and Exchange Visitors

Each of these groups is discussed in more detail below.

Permanent Workers

Permanent immigrant workers are authorized to live and work in the U.S. legally and permanently.

Temporary Workers

Temporary workers are people who want to come to the U.S. for certain purposes, so they are not in the country permanently and are not immigrants. They are non-immigrants. These people will be in the U.S. for a set amount of time, and once they make it, they will only be restricted to the reason/activity they received their visa for.

Student and Exchange Visitors

Sometimes, students may be allowed to work in the U.S. as well. But in order to do that, permission is required. It should be offered by an official at the school they’re attending. The official authorized to do this is known as the Designated School Official for students and the Responsible Officer (RO) for exchange visitors. When it comes to exchange visitors, the exchange visitor visa program will give them permission to temporarily work in the U.S.

How to Get a Work Permit in the U.S.?

Do you want to obtain a work permit in the U.S.? If that’s the case, you have to know the right steps to obtain the Employment Authorization Document. The EAD is granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, aka USCIS for short. The document will prove your eligibility to work in the States.

It comes in the form of a card, made from plastic. It will be available for one year, and when it expires, you can renew it.

When you want to obtain an Employment Authorization Document, you should request it. You can apply for a replacement of a lost EAD, permission to accept employment, or a permit renewal to accept employment.

How to Apply for EAD

Applying for an EAD is not difficult. You must submit Form I-765, which is the Application for Employment Authorization. Instructions on how to complete the form can be found on the official USCIS website, where you also get an example of the document.

Applying for EAD

There are certain documents that will help you complete and submit your application, so look on the checklist of required initial evidence for Form I-765 on the USCIS site for details depending on categories.

You have to file at a specific filing address, which depends on the reason you applied for an EAD, as well as your eligibility category.

Apart from the application, a filing fee will also be required. The fee is currently $410. Moreover, $85 is also required for biometric services. If you are filing with one of the eligibility categories, this applies to you:

  • You’re an applicant for long-term resident status for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)
  • Requesting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) consideration
  • You have a pending asylum application that requests initial and renewal EAD
  • You are an unmarried dependent child or a spouse of a beneficiary or an employment-based immigrant petition in compelling circumstances
  • You’re the beneficiary of the employment-based immigrant petition and you’re the one dealing with compelling circumstances

If you’re a CNMI long-term resident status applicant or you request DACA consideration, you don’t have a fee waiver for your base fee or biometric fee. As for other eligibility categories, there isn’t any biometric services fee.

Renewing and Replacing an EAD Card

Your EAD card can be renewed. If you already had an EAD but it expired, you can request a renewal with the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You can file it before your original EAD expires. Make sure the application isn’t processed more than 6 months leading to the expiration date, though.

Replacing the EAD is also possible in case there’s incorrect information on it, or it’s stolen or lost. For that to be possible, you may have to file a new Form I-765 and pay a filing fee as well. Of course, you will not have to pay any fees if USCIS made a mistake when processing your card, since you haven’t done anything wrong and can’t pay for someone else’s mistake. There are also situations when a fee waiver may be requested for all fees. Get in contact with the USCIS and you will find out exactly what needs to be done to replace your EAD card and whether you are exempt from paying fees or not.

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Final Thoughts

If you want to be legally authorized to work in the United States, you need to either be a citizen, or a permanent resident. It is possible without these statuses too, as long as you obtain an EAD. Getting an EAD can be done in a series of steps, so make sure you have the right documentation, complete the Form I-765 correctly, and submit it to the proper address. Moreover, make sure you have the funds for the filing fee.