If you aren’t a United States citizen, then you can’t legally work within the country without obtaining work authorization. The immigration system in the U.S. is extremely complicated and it can take a long time to get a permanent resident (green) card. However, people who are living in the country long-term still need to support themselves, which is where work authorization comes in.

What is Work Authorization?

Work authorization is the federal government’s procedure for allowing non-citizens to work in the United States, even if they don’t yet have a green card. If someone’s work authorization request is approved, they will receive an Employment Authorization Document that proves they can legally work.

Employers in the U.S. are required to verify that all new employees are authorized to work, whether due to their citizenship status, visa, or work authorization. A work permit provides this proof and allows any U.S. employer to hire someone legally.

A work authorization document is typically valid for a year, but it must be renewed prior to its expiration. Generally, work permits need to be renewed about 6 months before they expire.

Who Needs a Work Permit?

People who are legally in the United States but don’t have a work visa, green card, or full citizenship need a work permit to seek employment. This category includes people who have applied for Adjustment of Status to get their green cards, such as people who are married to a U.S. citizen or those who are being sponsored by a family member. Students will also need a work permit if they want to earn money while attending school.

Refugees and asylum-seekers also need work permits for employment. In general, if someone is waiting for their immigration paperwork to be processed, work authorization is necessary.

Should You Apply for Work Authorization?

If you have your green card already, then you don’t need to worry about work authorization. You also don’t need to apply for a work permit if you are or will be working with a specific employer under a work visa.

However, you might need to apply for work authorization if you are waiting to get your green card. People with pending applications for permanent residency typically need work authorization approval until their applications are processed.

If you need assistance with your immigration status or you’re confused about how to work legally in the United States, our Hackensack, New Jersey law firm can help. Call (201) 883-9800 for a consultation with our knowledgeable immigration attorney.