Getting a Work Permit While on a K-1 Fiancé Visa

USCIS routinely takes many months to issue work permits (employment authorization documents), such that your chances of receiving one while you are still eligible for it, as the holder of a K-1 fiancé visa, are slim. Here's what to do instead.

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

In theory, foreign-born citizens who receive K-1 fiancé visas and come to the United States have the right to work here during their 90-day stay; that is, during the time when they are allowed to be in the United States in order to marry a U.S. citizen. In practice, however, taking advantage of the right to an employment authorization document (EAD) is more difficult than it sounds—close to impossible, in fact. Here, we'll look at why that is, and discuss your best strategy for working in the United States as soon as possible.

A K-1 Visa Holder Must Submit an Application And Await a Work Permit Card Before Actually Working

As a K-1 visa holder, you can work in the United States only if, after entering, you apply for and receive a work permit from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is a small plastic card with your photo on it.

For application procedures, see below; but first, keep reading for the reasons you might not want to bother applying and paying the fee.

Timing Problems With Applying for a Work Permit

The difficulty with applying for a K-1 visa based work permit is that USCIS Service Centers routinely take at least three months to issue them, and often longer. You can doublecheck those processing times by going to the relevant USCIS web page and choosing "I-765" from the dropdown menu, then in the Form Category dropdown, choosing "all other applications for employment authorization," then choosing the USCIS service center that serves your area from the next dropdown.

The upshot is that your chances of receiving your work permit while you are still eligible for it, as the holder of a K-1 fiancé visa, are slim to nonexistent.

Better Strategy If You Plan to Apply for a Green Card Based on the Marriage: Do So Quickly

It is not mandatory for K-1 entrants to actually stay in the United States and apply for lawful permanent residence following marriage to a U.S. citizen. If that is what you're intending to do, however, you would be best off marrying as soon as possible and focusing on preparing your adjustment of status (green card) application.

As part of that application packet, you can include a Form I-765 requesting a work permit. You'll need to pay a separate fee for it, but it's half the usual fee in this situation.

Once you submit your adjustment of status application, you will still probably wait many weeks for your work permit. Check the USCIS Processing Time Information page of the agency's website to find out how long other I-765 applications are taking at the time that you file yours. (This time, choose "Form I-485" from the first dropdown and "Family-based adjustment applications" from the Form Category dropdown.)

You'll need to know which Service Center is processing your application. Look for this information on the receipt notice you received from USCIS when you filed your I-765. That is where your work permit application will be processed, despite the fact that you will be interviewed for your adjustment of status application at a local USCIS office.

If You Really Want to Apply for a Work Permit as a K-1 Fiancé Visa Holder, Here's How

If you've found that the processing times have speeded up significantly and you actually do want to apply for a work permit, use Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, available for free download from the USCIS website.

For general instructions on how to prepare the form, read Filling Out Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

For Questions 24 and 25 of Part 2 (4/1/2024 version of the form), your answer will most likely be K-1 fiancé for both.

Part 2. Question 27: Your eligibility category is (a)(6). Leave the third set of parentheses blank.

When finished, mail the form, the fee, two passport-style photos, and proof of your fiancé visa status (such as a copy of your approval notice, the stamp in your passport, and your Form I-94) to the appropriate USCIS Service Center indicated on the USCIS Web page for I-765 filing addresses. You may pay by money order, personal check, cashier's check, or by filling out and submitting Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

After sending your application in, you'll wait. And no matter how long USCIS takes to approve it, the EAD will expire at the same time as your K-1 status.

Getting Legal Help

If you are finding the immigration paperwork confusing and want help analyzing whether it's worth applying for a work permit or in preparing this or the adjustment of status paperwork, consult an experienced immigration attorney.

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