Frequently Asked Questions About Working While Waiting for a Green Card
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Work Permit Basics
While your application for a family-based green card (Form I-485) is processing, if you presently reside in the U.S. and want to work in the U.S., you may need a work permit first. If you reside overseas and are going through consular processing, you cannot apply for a work permit. Before and after applying for a work permit, there are other aspects to consider. Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions.
I reside in the United States and am a relative of a U.S. citizen or green card holder. When will I be able to start working?
While your green card application is being processed, you are still permitted to work in the U.S. if you already have a valid work visa, such as an H-1B or L-1. If not, you must first get your work permit, also known as an “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD), to begin employment in the United States.
The work permit application is often submitted together with the original green card application package for relatives of U.S. citizens.
However, family members of sponsoring green card holders must wait to apply for their green card (adjustment of status) – and thus must wait to apply for employment authorization – until they are eligible. This will depend on the visa bulletin.
How much time will the work permit take to arrive?
Following the USCIS receipt notice for your work permit/employment authorization document application, your work permit will be issued within 4-7 months. (Until recently, a work permit application typically takes 90 days to process; however, a mounting backlog has resulted in further delays. On the USCIS website, you may check the most recent processing time, which is updated periodically.)
Remember that you may not apply for a work permit until the green card application has been submitted (Adjustment of Status Form I-485). Relatives of green card holders must check the visa bulletin to determine if they are eligible to file the I-485 since they must wait for a visa number. The visa bulletin is updated monthly and shows you if you are eligible at a given time. “Immediate Relatives” of U.S. citizens may submit their work permit applications together with the first application package that contains the I-485 without having to wait for a visa number.
Can a family member who is a citizen of the United States apply for employment authorization on my behalf?
No. A family member cannot apply for a work permit on your behalf. The Form I-765 for a work permit must be signed by you, the family member applying for a green card.
What documents must I provide with my work permit application?
To apply for a work permit, you must provide several documents: Your I-94 travel record (if available) and past work permit (if any) are the two most important items. You will need further proof of identity if you have not received a work permit. The complete list of essential documents is included in our comprehensive guide on the work permit.
How much does it cost to submit a work permit application?
Getting a work permit is free if you file your application together with, or after, submitting your family-based green card application (Form I-485).
Working in the United States
What kind of work can I do if my work permit is issued?
The type of work you wish to do is not limited by the work permit associated with a family-based green card application. You are free to take any job that is not, on its own, unlawful or illegal.
How many hours may I work if my work permit is approved?
A work permit connected to a family-based green card application allows you to work as much as you like, whether full- or part-time. The amount of hours you may work is unconstrained.
What happens to my work permit if my application for a green card is approved?
Your work permit will expire when USCIS approves your green card application. Even before your actual green card shows up, you will be permitted to work in the U.S. You will not need a different work permit once you become a permanent resident.
Working While Abroad
Can I apply for a U.S. work permit and green card from my native country?
While residing overseas, you can apply for a green card but not your work permit for the United States. Only relatives of U.S. citizens & green card holders who submit their green card application from inside the U.S. are eligible for work permits.
Can I file for a work permit and a green card in the U.S., then go back to my home country to find employment while I wait?
Before you may leave the country while your green card application is pending, you must first apply for and receive “Advance Parole” also called “Travel Permit”. USCIS will consider your green card application “abandoned” if you depart the country before your travel permit application is granted.
You cannot return to your home country and start working there until your travel permission has been issued. By the time your travel permit is authorized, however, you will have the option of traveling and working outside of the U.S. or lawfully starting to work in the United States with your authorized work permit. Applications for both work and travel permits are typically processed in approximately 5-7 months. If you apply for both permits together, you will receive one card which is your Advance Parole Document and EAD.
If you are a relative of a citizen of the United States, these applications are included in the same filing package as the green card application. If you are a relative of a person with a green card, you must wait to submit your work & travel permit applications until you have submitted the green card application.
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