Filling Out Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization

Noncitizens seeking U.S. employment must often obtain a work permit card (EAD), based on their immigration category. Learn about this process here.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

Various categories of foreign-born persons who have received permission to spend time in the United States do NOT also have the automatic right to work here, unless they have first applied for and received an employment authorization document (EAD). This is often referred to as a work permit. For example, the following people must apply for a U.S. work permit before accepting any sort of U.S. employment:

  • people with a pending application for adjustment of status, temporary protected status (TPS), or asylum (in rare cases)
  • nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who've been paroled into the United States
  • foreign nationals who were allowed to enter the U.S. following a CBP One appointment
  • spouses and children of J-1 visa holders
  • persons granted withholding of removal, and
  • under some circumstances, F-1 students.

Most EAD applicants must pay a fee, as described on the I-765 page of the USCIS website, where you can also download the form.

REMINDER: Some foreign nationals do not need an EAD in order to lawfully work in the United States, such as those on temporary (nonimmigrant) employment visas such as the H-1B and those granted asylum.

Should You Apply for an EAD Work Permit If You Don't Plan to Work in the U.S.?

Even if you are not planning to take a job in the United States, having a work permit can be useful as a piece of photo identification. You can also use it to get a Social Security number and card and a driver's license.

General Rules for Filling Out USCIS Form I-765

There are a few general rules for filling out Form I-765. You should type the information into the form if you can. Otherwise, print it out and write with black ink. USCIS expects you to enter "None" or "N/A" (for "not applicable") if that's your answer, rather than leaving a space blank. If you can't fit your answer in the space provided, use Part 6 of the form to add additional information.

Line-by-Line Guidance to Filling Out USCIS Form I-765

Below is more detailed guidance to answering particular questions on the 10/31/2022 version of the form.

Part 1. Reason for Applying

If this is your first work permit, check 1.a, "Initial permission to accept employment."

If you've applied for a previous work permit (for example, if you're applying now as part of your green card application but previously applied for and received a work permit as a fiancé), check box 1.c for renewal.

Part 2. Information About You.

Most of this part is self-explanatory, except for the below.

Question 8: You might or might not have an Alien Registration Number (A-number). You would most likely have been given one if you applied for any immigration benefit once you arrived in the United States or if you were put into removal (deportation) proceedings. Look for your A-number (the letter A followed by eight or nine digits) on any correspondence you got from a U.S. immigration agency.

Question 9: You might or might not have a USCIS Online Account Number. You would have one only if you registered for this system in order to submit a previous application.

Question 13a and 13.b: If you have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA), check "yes" and then enter the number itself. Otherwise check "no" in 13.a.

Questions 14-15: Here, if you need an SSN, you have an opportunity to avoid making a personal visit to an SSA office. By checking "yes" to question 14 and the request for disclosure in question 15, and providing some personal information about your parents, the SSA will give you a number and send you your card soon after you receive your work permit. (The question about parents is to avoid confusion, for example in case your first and last names are the same.)

Question 21: If you entered the U.S. lawfully, you should have an I-94, either in paper form or recorded in the CBP website if you entered the United States by plane or ship after April 2013. (You'll need your passport number.) If you came before 2013, or if you came across a land border, you might find a white I-94 card stapled in your passport. If you changed status within the United States, your I-94 was included with your approval notice. Always use the most recent I-94 number you were given, if you have had more than one. You won't have an I-94 number if you came without documentation or if you came by car as a Canadian tourist.

Questions 22 and 23: Your date and place of last arrival into the United States, if you came by plane, must indicate the date and airport at which where your plane first landed—where you were inspected by a U.S. border officer. If you came without inspection across a land border, give the border state at least, and if you know you crossed into a specific border city (such as El Paso, Texas, or San Ysidro, California), give that too. Do not list the city where you eventually settled or first spent time in the United States.

Questions 24 and 25: These ask for your U.S. immigration status upon arrival and currently. If you know the visa category letters and numbers, you can use those (such as B-2 for visitor or F-1 for academic student). Otherwise, describe your category (such as "visitor" or "student"). If you are not in the U.S. legally, write "no legal status."

Question 26: If you are in the U.S. on a student or exchange visitor visa, you will have a SEVIS number.

Question 27: You will need to specify your eligibility category. If, for example, you are applying for adjustment of status, you would be in category "(c)(9)." People with pending asylum applications who've been waiting long enough to qualify for a work permit should enter (c)(8). A qualifying H-4 spouse of an H-1B holder should enter (c)26. Or, your category might be "F-1 Student Seeking Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship," in which case you would enter "(c)(3)(iii)." For a complete list of employment authorization categories, see the Employment Authorization page of the USCIS website.

You'll notice three sets of open parentheses to fill in—if your category has only two letter/numbers (like (c)(9)), start by filling in the parentheses on the far left, and leave the parentheses on the far right blank. If you need help determining your category, consult with an immigration lawyer.

Certain categories of applicants will also need to provide additional information, and in some cases supply supporting documents. Be sure to check USCIS's checklist of documents for applicants in select categories.

Part 3: Applicant's Statement, Contact Information, Declaration, Certification, and Signature

Insert your signature, the date, and information on how to contact you.

Parts 4 and 5

The next two sections of the form needs to be filled out and signed by any interpreter, lawyer, or other person you hired to help prepare the form. If you didn't hire any such person, leave this blank.

Part 6: Additional Information

This is for your convenience if any of the requested information didn't fit in the space provided.

Submitting Form I-765 to USCIS

When you've finished, make a complete copy of the Form I-765 and any supporting documents you're sending along with it, for your records.

If you don't pay by credit card (per USCIS's instructions and form), also make a copy of your check or money order.

Then you can either mail the completed package to USCIS or file it online (available in certain categories, after setting up an online account with USCIS), again following the instructions on the I-765 page of the USCIS website.

Most applicants must wait for USCIS to make its decision on the I-765 within its normal processing times, which unfortunately can be months long. However, USCIS offers so-called "premium processing" for a substantial added fee in a few categories, meaning it promises a decision within a specified period of time.

In 2023 for example, USCIS added to the premium processing list F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 students seeking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions who have a pending Form I-765 on file and wish a premium processing upgrade. Beware, though: USCIS is raising premium processing fees on February 26, 2024.

Getting Legal Help

Only a few categories of people are eligible for a U.S. work permit or employment authorization document. If you're at all in doubt as to whether you qualify, or need help preparing the paperwork and monitoring USCIS's decision on it, definitely consult an experienced immigration attorney.

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