How to Obtain an Employment Authorization Document
Published:  July 13, 2010

What is 2” x 3 ½ “, laminated, features a foreign national’s photo and is sought after by tens of millions in the U.S., and billions across the world? If it’s green, then it’s a Permanent Resident Card, or Green Card – allowing for, with a few exceptions, unrestricted and indefinite residence and employment in the U.S. If it’s white, then it’s an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”) – a document that allows a foreign national to obtain lawful employment in the U.S. for a limited period, but mostly without restriction. Most Americans cannot imagine the value of these documents, since they do not realize how bad off economically or freedom-wise most of the rest of the world is compared to the U.S. Below is a discussion of the very limited circumstances under which a foreign national in the U.S. can obtain the much sought after Employment Authorization Document.

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of individuals in the U.S. without legal status do not qualify for either an Employment Authorization Document – or a Green Card for that matter, no matter how hard working or honest they are or how much an employer may value them. There is no document they forgot to file, and no line for them to wait in. Simply put, access to extended lawful status or employment authorization in the U.S. does not exist for the vast majority of willing foreign workers. That said, tens of thousands of EAD’s are issued each year, with a validity of 1 to 2 years, and with most qualifying under the following 4 circumstances:

— Pending Applicants for Adjustment of Status: a foreign national in the U.S. awaiting a decision on their pending I-485, Application to Adjust Status to Permanent Resident (including applicants who at some point legally entered the U.S. and married a U.S. citizen),
— Certain Pending Applicants for Asylum: foreign national with a long pending asylum application still awaiting either an initial decision, or review on appeal, with decision-making exceeding statutorily mandated processing windows,
— F-1 Student, Optional Practical Training: issued after foreign student completes studies pursuant to Form I-20, (also available for students pre-graduation for curricular practical training, and under other circumstances),
— Temporary Protected Status: issued to eligible applicants from certain designated countries deemed to be facing severe crises, such as Haiti – the most recent TPS designated country.

There are more than 30+ additional avenues to obtain an EAD, ranging from the obscure – for citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands or Palau, OR domestic servants of U.S. citizens residing abroad – to the less obscure, such as for pending applicants for “Cancellation of Removal” relief in removal proceedings (based on more than 10 years of residence and hardship to certain U.S. family members). But again, for the overwhelming majority of undocumented in the U.S. asking the simple question: Do I qualify to obtain a work permit? – The answer will be: No. And for those who get any easy “Yes” from a lawyer or immigration “consultant” looking to make some easy money, a second and third opinion is recommended.

It should be noted that an EAD should not be mistaken for a work visa, with the latter generally requiring an employer to facilitate visa issuance by way of a job offer (usually professional) and the filing of a visa petition, and with employment limited to the petitioning company.

In the meantime, the 15 million undocumented in the U.S. – who qualify for neither a Green Card or EAD – continue to wait out enactment of some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, or path toward legalization, with very few having an intention to leave the U.S. unless forced to.

Copyright © 2010, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois