The United States admits international workers in a variety of job categories, but an international worker must have authorization to be employed in the U.S. Different terms and conditions have been established for each employment category. If you are an immigrant in the U.S., or if you’re planning to arrive here, keep reading to learn how to obtain employment authorization – and to learn what can happen if you don’t.

The very first thing to understand about employment authorization is that you must not confuse applying for a “work permit” with applying for a “work visa,” which is a far more complicated procedure. If you are an immigrant and you are already in the United States, you may need an experienced immigration attorney’s advice regarding your application for employment authorization – that is, for a work permit.

WHO MAY AND MAY NOT BE REQUIRED TO OBTAIN A WORK PERMIT?

Your employment goals and your residency status in the U.S. determine if you need a work permit and if you qualify for one. For example, if you already have lawful permanent resident status – that is, if you are a “green card” holder – you are already authorized to work in the U.S., and you do not need to apply for an employment authorization document (also known as an “EAD” or “work permit”).

If you don’t know your residency status or if you are not absolutely sure, resolve the matter with help from an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney, and resolve it before you apply for an employment authorization document. Your immigration attorney should also review or help you complete Form I-765 (“Application for Employment Authorization”) to avoid any mistakes, misunderstandings, or unnecessary delays.

Applicants who are completing Form I-765 must determine their “eligibility category.” The instructions for the form list dozens of categories – ten pages’ worth – and you’ll also need documentation that proves you belong to a particular eligibility category. The instructions indicate which documents you will need to attach. Again – and this cannot be stressed strongly enough – do not hesitate to seek an immigration attorney’s help with Form I-765.

WHAT MUST YOU INCLUDE WHEN YOU APPLY FOR WORK AUTHORIZATION?

Employment authorization applicants are required to attach a copy of your arrival-departure record, a copy of a federally-issued ID, two passport-style color photos, and the filing fee. Depending on your eligibility category, you must provide a basis for your eligibility for EAD. You may also be asked to submit additional forms and documentation.

As of 2017, the filing fee for Form I-765 is $410. In most cases, you must also pay an $85 biometric services fee, for a total of $495, if you belong to one of several eligibility categories. When your Application for Employment Authorization has been received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), it typically takes about three months to process the application.

You will be contacted through the mail if your Form I-765 was returned because of any inaccuracies or mistakes, if it has been denied, or if it has been approved. If your employment permit application is returned simply because you failed to include something, you will be allowed to revise and resubmit the application. It the application is denied, discuss your options with an immigration attorney.

FOR HOW LONG IS AN EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION DOCUMENT VALID?

EADs are typically granted for a one-year duration. Thereafter, employment authorization document renewals cannot be applied for more than 120 days before the current authorization expires. You may apply for a replacement EAD to replace a stolen, lost, or mutilated EAD or an EAD that was issued with inaccurate information.

If your EAD card includes inaccurate information that is not a USCIS error, you’ll have to complete a new Form I-765, pay another filing fee, and attach the inaccurate employment authorization document to the application. If your EAD card has inaccurate information because of an error that was made by USCIS, a new Form I-765 and a second filing fee will not be required.

The EAD is a standard credit card-sized plastic card with a number of security features. It includes the card holder’s name, date of birth, gender, immigrant category, nation of birth, a photo of the individual, and an 8 or 9-digit registration number. Also printed on the employment authorization document are its terms, conditions, and expiration date. The EAD card should not be confused with a green card.

WHO MAY NEED AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY’S ADVICE?

An immigration lawyer can guide you step-by-step through the entire EAD application process. In fact, immigrants who are seeking work permits and the U.S. employers who hire them can both benefit by taking their legal questions and concerns about immigration and employment to an experienced immigration attorney and getting sound, accurate advice.

The EAD card allows you to seek and accept employment in the United States, but in some cases, if you only work for one U.S.-based employer, you may not be required to obtain an employment authorization document. For example, if you work in a specialty occupation, like engineering or programming, that requires specialized knowledge, you may be sponsored by a U.S.-based employer who has obtained an H-1B visa on your behalf.

One advantage of the H-1B visa program is that the sponsoring employer pays the application and processing fees. However, if the employment terminates, you’ll have to leave the United States, find another H-1B-eligible employer immediately and transfer your H-1B work visa, or apply and be approved for a tourist visa to remain legally in the U.S.

HOW SHOULD EMPLOYERS DEAL WITH REGULATIONS AND ENFORCEMENT?

U.S. employers with international employees should understand they may come under some scrutiny. Immigration regulations are aggressively enforced – particularly against employers. Nevertheless, employers have nothing to fear if they work diligently to keep compliant with the law. Immigration attorneys frequently advise employers regarding immigration-related concerns like I-9 forms, E-Verify, and EADs.

Immigration law is always confusing, and it’s always changing, too, so whether you are a U.S.-based employer or an international employee, you must have legal advice that’s accurate and up-to-the-moment. You have too much at stake to count on the unreliable advice offered by the television or the internet.

If you are a U.S.-based employer – or if you want to work for one – you can contact an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney from anywhere in the world for help obtaining work visas and work permits. And if you have any questions or concerns regarding work authorization in the United States, speaking with an experienced immigration attorney is exactly what you should do.