Work Permits

How can I work in the U.S.?

Obtaining permission to work legally in the U.S. may seem simple on the surface, but the reality is far more challenging. Many people would like to work legally in the U.S., this but requires some type of documentation or status, most of which have specific applications, limitations, restrictions, or conditions by which one must comply. Obtaining permission to work in the U.S. can cost you serious time and money; potentially thousands of dollars and years spent waiting.

Document or Status Permanent or Temporary Application Process Involved? Involves a Fee?

Permanent Resident Card
“Green Card”


Yes, usually requires family or
employer petition

Very likely

Employment Authorization Document
“Work Permit”

Temporary Yes (many categories) Very likely

Employment-Related Visa
“Work Visa”

Temporary Yes Very likely

Keep in mind that the application for a work permit is not the same as applying for a work visa in the U.S., such as an H-1B Visa. The latter is a complex application process. See my “Visas” page for more details on nonimmigrant visas.

What’s an example of a way to get a green card?

One common way that a person can begin the process towards obtaining a green card is through a family petition. For example, Maria, a U.S. citizen, travels to Austria on a study abroad trip. There, she meets and falls in love with Arnold, an Austrian citizen who has never been to the U.S. They decide to get married in Austria. When Maria returns to the U.S., she hires an immigration lawyer to help bring Arnold to the U.S. legally. First, they file a family petition with USCIS to prove that Maria and Arnold have a qualifying relationship, then Arnold has an interview at the U.S. consulate in his home country. If everything goes well, Arnold gets a stamp in his passport and travels to the U.S. to live here permanently as a lawful permanent resident. 

With his green card in hand, he now has the right to live and work here.

How about an example of a work permit?

Maria, a journalist who frequently wrote in favor of a left-leaning political party in her home country of Chili, was kidnapped and tortured by members of the right-wing government administration. After escaping her captors, she fled the country and traveled to the U.S., where she applied for asylum. 

While waiting for her application to be processed in the U.S., she needed to work to support herself. Thus, she was eligible to apply for a work permit under the category (c)(8).

Note: After being physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after being granted asylum, Maria may be eligible to apply for a green card (assuming she meets the requirements).


And a work visa?

John Berry, a U.S. citizen and owner of Poteet Strawberries Corp. in Poteet, Texas, is looking for workers to help with picking strawberries next year. He finds that no one in town or in nearby towns is willing to work the fields. He decides to begin the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker process. 

John has an immigration attorney assist him in preparing and submitting a labor certification application to the U.S. Department of Labor. After receiving a temporary labor certification, John sends in a Form I-129 application to USCIS along with the labor certification. USCIS approves.

Now, a group of workers John knows from Tamaulipas, Mexico, apply for an H-2A visa make a trip to the U.S. border and apply at a port of entry specifically for H-2A classification. They are approved and now have permission to work up until the strawberry season is over (or whatever is indicated in the labor certification).

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