A Complete Guide to Getting Authorized for Work in the U.S.
If you’re born a U.S. citizen, becoming authorized for work just means reaching a certain age. If you’re not a citizen, you have to go through a few extra steps. That’s why this complete guide exists. Below, you’ll learn:
- Who Can Work in the U.S.
- Why You Need Work Authorization
- Step-by-Step Guide for How to Get Authorized for Work in the U.S.
Who Can Work in the US?
Before jumping into all the nuances of how to apply for a work permit in the USA, let’s first identify who can work in the U.S. in the first place. There are four umbrella categories designed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) you may fall under:
- Temporary Workers – There are 20 different categories by which you could be classified as a temporary worker within the U.S. To be lawfully employed, the employer must petition on your behalf as to why you fall within one of the 20 categories. These categories include, but are not limited to:
- Registered nurses during a health professional shortage
- Seasonal agricultural workers
- Persons with extraordinary ability in business, arts, or science
- Religious workers
- Film or TV production members
- Internationally recognized athletes
- Permanent Workers – According to the USCIS, there are about 140,000 immigrant visas available each year for noncitizens. Depending on the individual’s skill sets, education, and experience, they may fall under one of the five applicable preferences for work. Those are:
- 1st Preference – Reserved for someone with proven outstanding ability in a specific sector: Business, Arts, Science, Education, etc.
- 2nd Preference – Reserved for someone with advanced degrees of any specific sector: Business, Arts, Science, Education, etc.
- 3rd Preference – Reserved for skilled workers and other professionals
- 4th Preference – Reserved for “special immigrants”: Classified as religious workers, retired employees of international companies, and wards of court within the U.S.
- 5th Preference – Reserved for business investors who invest large sums into a new company within the U.S.
- Temporary Visitors for Business – Should a noncitizen be invited as a temporary visitor for a business, the employer would need to acquire a temporary visitor for a business visa.
- Students and Exchange Visitors – There are three student visas that allow you to work within the U.S.:
- F-Category Students – F-category is reserved for students of academia, their spouses and children, and any Canadian or Mexican national academia commuting students.
- M-Category Students – M-category is reserved for students of vocation disciplines, their spouses and children, as well as any Canadian or Mexican national academia commuting students.
- J-Category Students – J-category is reserved for exchange students and their spouses and children.
Why Do You Need Work Authorization?
Employers in the US are required to submit confirmation that an employee is legally allowed to work. This is most often done through a social security number. However, noncitizens will need an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD, to do this.
An EAD card is a physical, plastic card that proves someone is authorized to legally work in the U.S. This card is valid for one year, and can be obtained once the appropriate immigrant visa has been secured.
To understand how to get the appropriate work visa, let’s dive into...
How to Get Work Authorization in US: 5 Steps
From start to finish, here’s what you need to do for obtaining a work permit in USA:
- Identify which work visa is applicable to your situation
- Obtain a work visa via application
- Apply for a permit to work (EAD)
- Obtain a social security card
- Verify eligibility to work
#1 Identify Which Work Visa is Applicable to your Situation
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all work visa. In fact, there are five options for work visas depending on your experience, career goals, and work situation. Let’s briefly run through each one:
- U.S. Green Card – Permanent residents of the U.S. can apply for and obtain a Green Card. They can also be obtained through lawful employment opportunities by a US-based company. For example, should Google or Facebook want to hire a top-tier coder from Germany or China, they can offer employment and a permanent resident Green Card as a hiring proposition. This would fall under the first, second, or third preference listed above.
- Note on Green Card Lottery: The U.S. government hosts an annual lottery program in which immigrants can obtain the status as a permanent legal resident. It’s suggested to noncitizens seeking permanent resident status to apply early and within the application window. There are 11 steps of the process, including an interview.
- Skilled Worker Visa – The H1-B nonimmigrant visa is known as the Temporary Worker Visa for Skilled Workers. These visas apply to skilled, educated workers who have specialized knowledge within a given sector (Business, Arts, Education, Science, etc.). To gain this visa, you need to be sponsored by an established employer.
- Agriculture-Based Temporary Work Visa – H-2A visas are known as the U.S. Seasonal Agricultural Worker visas, which allow noncitizen agricultural workers to be employed during seasonal work. These visas have a maximum time limit of three years, after which, the application process must be started again, or the person must transition to permanent resident status.
- Note on Restrictions for H2-A Visas: These visas are only issued granted a shortage of domestic workers, and only those can apply from eligible countries (effective Jan. 19, 2020).
- Non-Agriculture-Based Temporary Work Visa – Similar to H-2A, if you are working on a temporary basis (though not in agriculture), you can apply for a Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers visa (H-2B). This applies to those working at summer resorts, hotels, amusement parks, mountain ski resorts, and similar occupations.
- Exchange Visitor Visa – If you are a student, seasonal worker and traveler, professor, camp counselor, intern, au pair, or another qualified J-1 visa participant, then you can obtain an exchange visitor visa. These are temporary visas that allow you to apply for a work permit for the time you’re in the U.S. This type of visa is meant to give students and those here temporarily with an opportunity to live and experience life in America, and gain a deeper appreciation for American culture and lifestyle.
#2 Obtain a Work Visa Via Application
Depending on the work you’re applying for, there will be an individual work visa application. Be sure to identify which program best suits your needs, then find the application that matches when getting social security for work only.
You can find all the different types of work as well as the associated application process through the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services page on Working in the United States.
#3 Apply for a Permit to Work (EAD)
As mentioned above, the necessary documentation that employers require is an EAD. Once you have your work visa, you can obtain this permit to work.
To apply, you need to fill out a Form I-765, which is an application for employment authorization. To confirm eligibility with your given work visa, you can look through the USCIS’s specific requirements, forms, and fees for filing.
#4 Obtain a Social Security Card
To legally work in the U.S., you’ll also need a social security number. But how do you obtain a social security card?
Noncitizens will need:
- To fill out a Form SS-5
- Two supporting documents that prove the following information: identity, immigration status, age, and job eligibility
- DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status if you are a J-1 visa holder
- I-20 certificates if you are an international student
- All documents must be original and unexpired
The process can seem confusing and long-winded, and traditionally it has involved waiting in long lines during work hours at your local social security office locations. Now, however, application technology has caught up with the times in the form of E-record tools by NotYourSocialSecurity.
Skip the lines and the hassle of improperly filled out application forms. With NYSS, you’ll be able to obtain a new, replacement, or duplicated SSN card without ever leaving home.
#5 Verify Eligibility to Work
Let’s quickly run through what you should have by this step:
- Work visa
- Work permit
- Social security card
Now, when you go to apply for a job, your employer will need to fill out one final form: an I-9 form. This document verifies all the information above and confirms that you are eligible to work. This means they will be asking for supporting documents to prove both your identity and valid work authorization.
Should you have followed all the above steps, this should be no problem.
Note that they may ask you for documents you don’t currently have. Check with the USCIS’s list of approved documents your employer can use. You can either use documents from List A or a combination of Lists B and C.
Safe, Data-Secure, and Speedy Social Security: NotYourSocialSecurity
That’s it! Once you have completed all the above steps, you will officially be eligible for legal employment within the U.S. Of all the steps to getting a valid work authorization in the U.S., one of the most complex and time-consuming pieces is obtaining your social security card.
At least, it used to be.
With NotYourSocialSecurity, you can make this step the easiest of the bunch. Just take advantage of the E-record tools that provide you step-by-step instructions for how to apply, duplicate, or get a replacement social security card.
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- USCIS. Working in the United States.
- USDOS. Diversity Visa Program.
- USCIS. H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers.
- TheBalance. J-1 (U.S. Exchange Visitor) Visa Information.
- USCIS. I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
- USCIS. Form I-9 Acceptable Documents.