“Legally Authorized to Work in the United States” — What is Work Authorization?

Updated on April 10, 2024
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.
  • In today’s globalized world, understanding work authorization is crucial for both employers and individuals seeking international employment opportunities. This post offers an insightful guide into this essential aspect of employment law. It addresses the key aspects of obtaining work authorization in a foreign country. It explores various types of work authorizations, eligibility, application processes, required documents, and associated rights and limitations. This guide is essential for anyone navigating the complexities of international employment law.

    “Work Authorization” Meaning

    Work authorization in the United States is the legal permission granted by the federal government, specifically the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), allowing individuals to engage in employment within the country. It serves as official proof that the individual has fulfilled the necessary requirements and holds the qualifications to work in a specified occupation or industry. In the U.S., work authorization is typically obtained through various means such as securing a work visa (e.g., H-1B, L-1, O-1), an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for certain visa categories, or by being a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). This authorization is crucial as it ensures that individuals are legally permitted to work in the U.S., contributing to its economy while upholding the legal rights and protections for both employers and employees. It is an essential process for maintaining the integrity of the U.S. labor market, ensuring compliance with immigration laws, and supporting the fair treatment of workers regardless of their national origin.

    Importance of Work Authorization

    Work authorization is of utmost importance as it serves as a legal framework that ensures individuals are permitted to work within a specific country. This process helps maintain the integrity of the labor market by regulating the employment of foreign nationals and preventing unauthorized work. By obtaining work authorization, individuals demonstrate their eligibility to contribute to the local economy, ensuring fair competition among job seekers and protecting the rights of both employees and employers. Furthermore, work authorization enables governments to track and monitor the workforce, facilitating effective tax collection and ensuring compliance with labor laws. Ultimately, work authorization plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced and harmonious employment landscape while promoting economic growth and stability.

    Types of Work Authorization

    Work authorization in the United States refers to the legal permission granted to non-U.S. citizens or non-permanent residents to work in the country. This authorization is necessary for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) to legally work in the U.S. There are several forms of work authorization, each with specific eligibility criteria and restrictions:

    1. Employment Authorization Document (EAD): This is a card issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that grants the holder the right to work in the U.S. It is usually given to individuals in specific immigration statuses, such as asylum seekers, refugees, students on Optional Practical Training (OPT), recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and certain spouses of visa holders.
    2. Work Visas: The U.S. offers various types of work visas for foreign nationals, including, but not limited to:
    • H-1B visas for specialty occupations.
    • L-1 visas for intracompany transferees.
    • O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.
    • E-3 visas for Australian citizens in specialty occupations.
      These visas are typically employer-sponsored and tied to specific job roles.
    1. Green Card (Permanent Residency): Green card holders have the right to live and work permanently in the U.S. They can be obtained through various means, such as family sponsorship, employment, refugee or asylum status, or the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.
    2. Other Specific Authorizations: Certain individuals may be authorized to work due to their specific statuses, such as students on F-1 visas who are permitted to work on-campus or through programs like OPT or CPT (Curricular Practical Training).

    The process to obtain work authorization usually involves applying to USCIS and may require sponsorship from an employer, depending on the visa type. The requirements, duration, and restrictions of work authorization vary significantly based on the individual’s immigration status and the type of authorization they seek. It’s important for individuals seeking work in the U.S. to understand the specific regulations and procedures that apply to their situation to ensure legal compliance and protect their right to work.

    Who Is Eligible for Work Authorization?

    In the United States, work authorization is a legal status granted by federal immigration laws to individuals who meet specific eligibility criteria, allowing them to work legally within the country. This eligibility varies based on the individual’s immigration status and the policies governing employment of non-citizens. Generally, the categories of individuals eligible for work authorization in the U.S. include:

    1. U.S. Citizens: Naturally, citizens of the United States are authorized to work without any additional permits or visas.
    2. Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders): Individuals who have been granted lawful permanent residency are authorized to work in the U.S. without restrictions.
    3. Foreign Nationals with Work Visas: This includes those holding various types of work visas, such as H-1B (specialty occupations), L-1 (intra-company transferees), O-1 (extraordinary ability), etc.
    4. Students and Exchange Visitors: Individuals on F-1 (students) or J-1 (exchange visitors) visas are permitted to work under certain conditions, like on-campus employment or Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students.
    5. Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Once granted asylum or refugee status, these individuals can apply for work authorization.
    6. DACA Recipients: Individuals under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are eligible to apply for work authorization.
    7. Certain Dependents of Visa Holders: Spouses and children of certain visa holders may be eligible for work authorization.
    8. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Recipients: Individuals from designated countries affected by extraordinary conditions are eligible for TPS, which includes work authorization.

    The process and requirements for obtaining work authorization in the U.S. can be complex, and it’s crucial for foreign nationals seeking employment to consult the specific immigration laws and USCIS guidelines to determine their eligibility. Understanding these regulations ensures compliance and legal employment within the United States.

    What Is the Process to Obtain Work Authorization?

    To apply for your Employment Authorization Document, you must first fulfill the requirement of filling out Form I-765, which is the Application for Employment Authorization. Here are the instructions for completing the applications:

    Part 1 – Reason for Applying

    Within this particular section, you will be presented with three choices. Select the initial checkbox if you are submitting the form to acquire a work permit, tick the second checkbox if you have misplaced your work permit and require a replacement, and mark the third checkbox if you are in need of renewing your permit.

    Part 2 – Your Personal Details

    When applying for work authorization, it is necessary to provide essential details such as your name(s), address, Alien Registration Number, USCIS Online Account Number, gender, marital status, nationality, social security number (if applicable), parent’s names, and most recent entry into the United States.

    In addition, it is necessary to choose the eligibility category that aligns with your particular immigration status or circumstances, which makes you eligible for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). To identify the appropriate category for your situation, carefully review the instructions provided on the form and refer to the guidelines set by USCIS.


    • Section (a)(5) refers to individuals who are seeking asylum.
    • Individuals applying for an adjustment of status, specifically under section (c)(9)
    • Individuals who have obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, as specified under section c33 of the immigration law
    • Individuals who hold Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under section c-19.

    Under the section titled “information about your eligibility,” you will be required to enter your code in the designated area labeled as number 27.

    Parts 3 to 5 – Signatures]

    In Part 3, your signature will be required. If you have an interpreter or preparer assisting you, they will sign in the appropriate sections assigned to them.

    To submit your Form I-765, you have the option of either completing an electronic form or sending it via postal mail to the USCIS.

    What Documents Are Required for Work Authorization?

    Documents Required for Filing Form I-765

    Filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, requires various documents, which can differ depending on your specific visa situation. Whether you have a pending visa application or are maintaining a current nonimmigrant status, certain documents are essential to validate your eligibility for employment authorization.

    Commonly required documents for most applicants include:

    • Two Passport-Style Photos: These should be identical and meet the standard passport photo requirements.
    • Copy of Form I-94: This is the Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record. Copies of both the front and back are necessary. Alternatively, if you possess an electronic Form I-94, a printed copy of this can be submitted. Additionally, your passport or other valid travel documents can serve as supplementary evidence.
    • Previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD): If you’re applying for a renewal, include a copy of your previous EAD.
    • Form G-28: This is required if you are represented by an immigration attorney, indicating their authorization to act on your behalf.
    • Government-Issued Identification: A document such as a passport or national ID card to confirm your identity.
    • Proof of Your Current Immigration Status: This could include various documents based on your specific visa category or immigration status.

    It’s important to consult with your immigration lawyer to determine any additional or specific documents required for your case. They can provide guidance tailored to your unique immigration and employment authorization situation.

    Rights and Limitations with Work Authorization

    In the United States, the rights and limitations for immigrants with work authorization vary based on the type of visa or permit they hold. Here’s an overview:


    1. Legal Employment: Individuals with work authorization can legally work in the U.S. for the employer or in the role specified in their visa or permit.
    2. Wage and Labor Protections: They are entitled to the same labor rights as U.S. citizens, including minimum wage, overtime pay, and safe working conditions.
    3. Social Security and Medicare: Immigrants with work authorization contribute to Social Security and Medicare through payroll taxes and may be eligible for benefits in the future.
    4. Access to Certain Public Benefits: Depending on their status, they might be eligible for some federal and state public benefits.
    5. Ability to Travel: Some visas allow for travel in and out of the U.S. without jeopardizing the visa status.


    1. Employment Restrictions: Work authorization is often tied to a specific employer or job type. Changing jobs may require a new authorization or visa adjustment.
    2. Duration of Stay: Work visas are typically issued for a fixed period. Staying beyond this period without proper authorization can lead to legal issues.
    3. No Voting Rights: Immigrants, even those with work authorization, cannot vote in federal and most state elections.
    4. Limited Access to Public Benefits: Work visa holders often have limited access to public benefits compared to permanent residents or citizens.
    5. Dependency on Employer: Some work visas, like the H-1B, tie the immigrant’s legal status to their employer, which can create a dependency relationship.
    6. Renewal and Adjustment of Status: Work authorizations and visas require renewals, and any change in employment status might necessitate adjustments in immigration status.

    Special Considerations

    • Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders): They have fewer restrictions, can work for any employer, and do not face time limits on their stay.
    • DACA Recipients: They have specific limitations and protections under this program.
    • Asylum Seekers and Refugees: They have distinct rights and limitations in terms of employment.

    Understanding the specific type of work authorization and associated visa is crucial for immigrants to know their rights and limitations in the U.S. Immigration laws can be complex, and the rules may change, so staying informed and consulting with immigration experts is advisable.

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    Final Thoughts

    Work authorization is a fundamental aspect of the global employment landscape, serving as a cornerstone for legal and organized labor markets. It not only enables individuals to contribute to foreign economies but also ensures their rights are protected while maintaining compliance with a country’s laws. From temporary work permits to permanent residency, each form of authorization caters to diverse needs and scenarios, highlighting the importance of understanding and adhering to the specific requirements of each. As the world continues to evolve and become more interconnected, the role of work authorization in fostering a dynamic and lawful workforce becomes increasingly significant. Whether you are an employer or a job seeker, navigating these waters with a clear understanding of work authorization is key to successful international employment and collaboration.

    Work Authorization FAQ

    Below, you will find some common questions about work authorization in the U.S. and their answers.

    Can work authorization be revoked or expired?

    Yes, work authorization can be revoked or expired under certain circumstances. Work authorization is typically granted by a government entity to allow individuals to legally work in a specific country for a specified period of time. However, there are situations where work authorization can be revoked or expire. For example, if an individual violates the terms and conditions of their work authorization, such as engaging in illegal activities or overstaying their authorized period of stay, the government may revoke their work authorization. Additionally, work authorization may have an expiration date, after which individuals need to renew their authorization to continue working legally. It is important for individuals to adhere to the rules and regulations surrounding their work authorization to avoid any potential revocation or expiration.

    Is work authorization necessary for all employment?

    Yes, work authorization is necessary for all employment. Work authorization refers to the legal permission granted by a government to an individual allowing them to work in a specific country. This authorization ensures that individuals are eligible to work and contribute to the country’s economy while also protecting the rights of both employees and employers. It helps maintain a fair and regulated job market by ensuring that individuals have the necessary qualifications, skills, and legal status to be employed in a particular country. Without work authorization, individuals may face legal consequences and employers may be subject to penalties for hiring unauthorized workers. Therefore, it is crucial for all employment to require work authorization as it promotes lawful employment practices and protects the interests of both parties involved.

    Yes, there are legal consequences for working without authorization. In most countries, including the United States, it is considered a violation of immigration laws to work without proper authorization. The specific consequences vary depending on the jurisdiction, but they typically include fines, deportation, and in some cases, criminal charges. Additionally, employers who knowingly hire individuals without work authorization may also face penalties and legal repercussions. It is important for individuals to ensure they have the necessary work authorization before engaging in employment to avoid these potential legal consequences.

    Does work authorization differ between countries?

    Yes, work authorization does differ between countries. Each country has its own set of laws and regulations regarding the employment of foreign nationals. Work authorization refers to the legal permission granted by a country’s government for an individual to work within its borders. The specific requirements and processes for obtaining work authorization vary widely from one country to another. Factors such as the purpose of employment, duration of stay, and the individual’s qualifications may all impact the type and duration of work authorization granted. It is important for individuals seeking employment in a foreign country to thoroughly research and comply with the specific work authorization requirements of that particular country to ensure legal compliance and avoid any potential issues or penalties.

    Do students need work authorization for part-time jobs?

    Yes, students typically need work authorization for part-time jobs. Work authorization refers to the legal permission granted by a government to an individual allowing them to work within a specific country. In most cases, international students studying in a foreign country are required to obtain work authorization before they can engage in any form of employment, including part-time jobs. This is done to ensure that students are legally permitted to work and that their employment does not violate any immigration laws or regulations. The process of obtaining work authorization for part-time jobs usually involves submitting relevant documents, such as a valid student visa, proof of enrollment, and a job offer letter, to the appropriate government authorities.

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