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What is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

An Employment Authorization Document, or EAD card, is a work permit that allows foreign nationals to work in the United States for American companies. In this article, we’ll go over the reasons you could qualify for one and what you need to know about the application process.

Special note about recent changes:

Before April 2022, spouses of certain visa holders were required to file EAD applications to work in the U.S. Now L-2 and E dependent visa holders can work in the U.S. as soon as they are admitted with valid L-2 or E status.

What is the purpose of an EAD?

If you are not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires that you obtain work authorization to be employed in the U.S. When you begin work at a new employer, your employer will ask you to provide documentation to establish your identity and legal immigration status.

The EAD serves as a form of employment authorization. It is different from a visa in that it is not tied to a specific employer. In most situations, EADs allow you to work for any U.S. employer.

The exception is the EAD card for F-1 students (such as CPT or OPT students), which are not tied to a single employer, but are limited to specific types of employers and roles.

EADs are typically issued for a limited period of time (one or two years), but the validity period varies based on the circumstance.

Who needs to apply for an EAD?

Perhaps you're applying for an employment-based green card but have an H-1B status that is expiring soon—applying for an EAD can help you stay and work legally in the U.S. until you get your green card. Or maybe you need an EAD to work while attending university in the U.S. There are many reasons why you might need an EAD.

Situations where an individual could qualify for an EAD include:

  • You are filing an I-485 green card application or have already filed an I-485 green card application: you can apply for an EAD at the same time as you apply for adjustment of status or while your adjustment of status application is pending. EADs get processed and approved more quickly than green cards, allowing you to have work authorization while you await your green card.
  • Your current visa status requires you to file an EAD application before working: some visas, such as the F-1, M-1, and J-2 visas allow visa holders to work, but only after getting an approved EAD. For example, F-1 students can work on an EAD through the curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT) programs.
  • You have a pending I-589 asylum or withholding of removal application: 150 days after filing your asylum application, you can file an EAD application so you can work while waiting for your asylum case to be processed.
  • You are an asylee, refugee, or U nonimmigrant visa holder: Asylees, refugees, and U visa holders in the U.S. can file an EAD application to work in the U.S.
  • Anyone who with a lost, stolen, or destroyed EAD: you must restart the process to obtain a new EAD.

As mentioned above, L-2 and E spouses no longer need an EAD to work in the U.S.

How do you apply for an EAD?

To start, you will need to mail in a completed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and the applicable filing fee and biometric fee to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service center.

You can only begin work once your application is approved and you have received the physical card. You can see estimated processing times for I-765 applications (and any other USCIS applications) on USCIS’s website to get an idea of how long you’ll have to wait for an approval after filing the application.

What documents do you need to include in an I-765 application?

In addition to Form I-765, you will need to mail USICS the following documents for your EAD application. The required documents vary based your immigration situation. Be sure to check USCIS’s website for the specific documents you should include based on your situation. In general, you will need to include the following:

  • A copy of your Form I-94Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record
  • A copy of your last EAD card (if applicable)
  • Two identical photos that meet the U.S. passport photo requirements
  • If you were not previously issued an EAD, you must submit a copy of a government-issued identity document, such as a passport photo page
  • Filing fee and biometric fee
  • Any other documents required based on your situation, such as documents to apply for a social security number
What happens if I file an I-765 application and green card application at the same time, and then my green card is denied?

If your employment authorization document is issued because you have a pending green card application and then your green card is denied for any reason, your EAD will no longer be valid. Please note that you will have to find another form of work authorization or leave the U.S.

Can I apply for a social security card when I submit my I-765 application for an EAD?

Yes. Many applicants choose to apply for a U.S. social security card at the same time. Learn more.

What is the difference between Form I-765 and Form I-766?

Form I-765 is the application for an employment authorization document. Form I-766 refers to the physical EAD card that you will be issued after Form I-765 is approved.


There are a number of reasons why you might want or need an employment authorization document. If you have a U.S. work visa and are hoping to file a green card application in the future, it is usually a relief knowing that you’ll have the ability to work through an EAD while your green card is pending. We’re here to help with your business immigration needs. Reach out to our team if you are considering permanent residency in the U.S. based on your employment.

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.