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What is EAD: The Complete Guide to U.S. Work Authorization

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is a temporary document granting certain visa holders, such as L2 visa holders, the legal right to work in the U.S.
  • EAD provides authorization and rights for employment, with a limited validity period, usually one year, requiring renewal before expiration.
  • EAD eligibility varies based on factors like visa status, differing from a Green Card that provides residency and work rights.
  • EADs have fewer work restrictions than H1B visas; renewal involves submitting Form I-765 and paying necessary fees. They can be replaced if lost, stolen, or contain incorrect information.

EAD has been in the news quite a lot lately. The U.S. has strict laws governing the right of visa holders to work in the U.S. and under the Trump administration, it has become even stricter. In order to be able to work in the U.S. on a visa, you will need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You might be wondering exactly what is EAD?. Below we take a look at the basics regarding Employment Authorization Documents and how you can apply for one.

What is EAD?

Certain visa holders (like L2 visa holders) need an EAD before they are legally allowed to work in the U.S. An EAD is a document that grants its holder this authorization and right.

An EAD has a temporary lifespan. Most EADs are valid for one year, but it may differ from case to case. It is important to renew your EAD before it expires if you want to continue working in the U.S.

It is important to keep in mind that an EAD does not allow someone to stay in the U.S. Visas or Green Cards are used to allow someone entry into the U.S., not an EAD.

Differences Between an EAD Card and a Green Card

So how is an EAD is different from a Green Card?

An EAD authorizes and proves that someone is eligible for employment in the U.S. The EAD’s sole use is to grant the holder the right to be employed. An EAD does not give someone the right to enter the U.S. Eligibility to get an EAD is also dependent on the status of your visa. EADs are not given to someone without a visa or other qualifying document authorizing them to be in the U.S.

A Green Card grants someone residency in the U.S. A Green Card is also only valid for temporary periods. But, it can be renewed if your application is successful. If you travel abroad, you can use your Green Card in conjunction with your passport to re-enter America. If you have a Green Card, you also have the right to work in the U.S.

Who Qualifies for EAD?

Now that you know the answer to “what is EAD?” the next question is whether you qualify. What if you have an H4 visa for example? Can you get an EAD?

There are basic categories of people who are eligible for an EAD. Take note an application for an EAD does not mean automatic success even if you are eligible. Different factors can influence the outcome.

People eligible to apply for an EAD:

  • Green Card applicants who are waiting for their application result or who applied for an Adjustment of Status
  • Spouses of specific employment-based nonimmigrant visa holders (E1, E2, and certain H-1B visa holders)
  • F1 students who are part of an OPT (Optional Practical Training) program
  • People who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • K1 visa holders
  • Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau citizens
  • Refugees
  • Asylum seekers allowed to stay in the U.S.

EAD vs. H1B Work Restrictions

An H1B visa grants someone entry into the U.S. and it simultaneously gives them the right to work for their sponsor (the U.S. employer who petitioned for them to move to America). There are naturally some differences between an EAD and an H1B visa’s work restrictions.

EAD Regulations:

  • Eligibility – EAD is available to non-resident immigrants living in America.
  • Work Restrictions – May take any job they can find in the U.S.
  • Validity Period – The visa status and duration determines the length of an EAD.
  • Quota – There is no limit or quota on the amount of EAD’s issued by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  • Application Periods – You can apply at any stage.

H1B Regulations:

  • Eligibility – You need to meet education or experience criteria and you need a written job offer from a U.S. company.
  • Work Restrictions – You may only work in your field of expertise.
  • Validity Period – It’s valid for 3 years with an option to extend up to 6 years.
  • Quota – Only 65,000 visas are available per year and an additional 20,000 is reserved for people with Master’s degrees or better.
  • Application Periods – The yearly lottery opens on April 1st.

What Are the Time Limits on EAD Cards?

EAD cards are not valid indefinitely. They are issued to be valid for short periods like a year at a time. This ensures that an EAD card won’t be valid beyond the validity of the holder’s visa. It’s important to apply early enough for the renewal of your EAD.

EAD Renewal

Here are the basic steps you can follow to renew your EAD.

Eligibility

Make sure you are still eligible. Your application will not be processed if you aren’t eligible. Go through the requirements and criteria again to confirm.

Window Period of Renewal

You won’t be able to renew your EAD 180 days before it expires. Wait until there are 120 days left before it expires, and then submit your renewal application.

Submit Form I-765

You need to submit a new Form I-765 at the USCIS. Complete the form as per the instructions supplied.

Filing Fees

The processing fee for EAD renewal is $410 and the biometric service fee is $85. Some categories of people may have the filing fee waived all together (check with the USCIS if you qualify).

Application Success

The USCIS will notify you by mail at your registered address about the outcome of your application. They may either mail you your EAD or they’ll request you to collect it at your nearest USCIS office. If your application is denied, the notification will also contain an explanation for their decision.

EAD Replacement

What do you do if your EAD is lost, stolen, or even incorrectly issued? The good news is you can replace it.

If Your EAD is Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed

Request a replacement by filing a Form I-765. Follow the normal application process but request a replacement.

If Your EAD Contains Incorrect Information

There are two things that can cause this. A mistake made by you when you applied or a processing error by the USCIS.

  1. Due to your own error – Submit a new application through a Form I-765. Pay the filing fee (or have it waived if possible). Supply all documents requested for the application. Also, include the EAD card with the error.
  2. Due to USCIS error – If your EAD is faulty due to an error the USCIS made, you can request a replacement. Submit the EAD with the error to the service center or National Benefit Center that approved your last Form I-765 application. Also, add a detailed explanation of the error with supporting documents claiming the correct information. You won’t have to pay the filing fee.

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Conclusion

Now you know the answer to “what is EAD?”. Being a visa holder grants you entry to the U.S., but an EAD grants you the great opportunity to also work here. Make sure you renew your EAD in time so your career does not come to a sudden halt. Apply for your EAD and go make a success of your career here in the States

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

An Employment Authorization Document (EAD), often referred to as a work permit, is a document issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that grants the holder the right to work in the United States.

Who Needs an EAD?

Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, such as asylum seekers, refugees, students seeking particular types of employment, certain visa holders, and applicants for adjustment of status, need an EAD to work legally in the U.S.

How Do I Apply for an EAD?

To apply for an EAD, you need to file Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” with USCIS, along with required documents and fees, unless fee-exempt.

What Documents are Required to Apply for an EAD?

Required documents for an EAD application typically include proof of your immigration status, a recent photograph, and a government-issued identification document, such as a passport.

How Long Does It Take to Get an EAD?

The processing time for an EAD can vary based on the applicant’s immigration status and USCIS workload. It typically ranges from a few weeks to several months.

Is an EAD the Same as a Green Card?

No, an EAD is not the same as a Green Card. An EAD is a temporary work authorization, whereas a Green Card grants permanent resident status with the right to live and work indefinitely in the U.S.

Can I Work in the U.S. Without an EAD?

Certain visa holders, like H-1B or L-1 visa holders, can work without an EAD. However, most other non-residents require an EAD to work legally in the U.S.

How Long is an EAD Valid?

The validity of an EAD varies and is usually tied to the underlying immigration status. It can range from one year to several years and is subject to renewal.

Can I Renew My EAD?

Yes, you can renew your EAD. You should file a renewal application with USCIS before your current EAD expires, ideally about 180 days before.

Does an EAD Allow Me to Travel Outside the U.S.?

An EAD itself does not allow you to travel outside the U.S. Travel authorization depends on your specific immigration status and may require a separate document, like an Advance Parole.

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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.

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