How to Apply for a Work Permit While Awaiting an Asylum Decision

When and how an asylum applicant can apply for a work permit on USCIS Form I-765.

You are allowed to work in the U.S. as an asylum applicant if you are lucky enough to have the timing work out. The rules on this are in transition, however.

Until August 25, 2020, if you applied for asylum at least 180 days ago and have not yet received an initial decision on your application, you should be eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (also called a work permit or EAD).

After August 25, 2020, however, you must wait 365 days without a decision on your asylum application before you can apply for an EAD; and you must not be the cause of any delays in a decision on your application.

For purposes of counting the days, an asylum application is considered filed when it is received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (for affirmative applicants) or a defensive application is filed with the Immigration Court (if applying while in removal proceedings).

If you meet the timing requirements, you must file Form I-765 in order to apply for an EAD before you start working. Your EAD will authorize you to work in the United States for a specified period of time.

NOTE FOR PEOPLE ALREADY APPROVED FOR ASYLUM: If you are an approved asylee, you do not need to apply for an EAD. It is enough for you to apply for a Social Security card and present this to employers. Nevertheless, if you are approved by the Asylum Office, that office might initiate the process of preparing an EAD for you. It is a handy form of photo identification, so pursuing one is a good idea. If the Asylum Office doesn't start the process for you, see Granted Asylum Status in the U.S.: When You'll Get Your Asylum Documents for what to do next.

Details on Who Can Apply for EAD Based on a Pending Asylum Application

Until August 25, 2020, you are eligible for a work permit so long 180 days have passed, you haven’t caused any delays that stops the asylum “clock” from running, and your application is still pending.

After August 25, 2020, you will be eligible for a work permit if you reach 365 days without an asylum decision and don't fall into any of these ineligibility categories:

Ineligibility based on application timing. If your asylum application is denied before 365 days have passed, or after 365 days pass but before approval of your work permit, you will not be eligible for a work permit at all.

Ineligibility based on criminal behavior. You will not be eligible for a work permit if you are an asylum applicant who has been convicted of certain crimes, which you'll need a lawyer's help to analyze. Additionally, if USCIS has “serious reasons for believing” you committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States, you will not be eligible to receive a work permit.

Ineligibility based on late-filed application. You are ineligible for a work permit if your asylum application was filed more than one year after you entered the United States, unless an asylum officer of immigration judge decides you are allowed to file the application late.

Ineligibility based on unlawful entry. You are prohibited from receiving an EAD if you entered the United States unlawfully. However, there’s an exception if you can prove you had good cause to do so, you went to an immigration officer within 48 hours of entering the United States, and you told the immigration officer you intended to apply for asylum or feared returning to your home country owing to the possibility of persecution or torture.

Ineligibility based on delay. If you delay the decision-making on your asylum application and that delay has not yet been resolved, you will not be eligible to file for a work permit. For more information about the timing of your work permit application, see When Can Asylum Applicants Get a Work Permit (EAD Card)?

Filling Out EAD Application (Form I-765)

You can access Form I-765 for free either on the USCIS website or by calling the Customer Contact Center at 800-375-5283 to have the form mailed to you.

When filling out Form I-765, make sure to first read the instructions that accompany the form. Write clearly and in black ink if you do not have access to a computerized form.

If you fail to answer even one question on the form, the entire EAD application will be returned to you to revise and resubmit. So, if there is no answer to a question or a question does not apply to you, write “N/A” (“not applicable”) or “None” in the answer space for that question. Do not leave any spaces blank.

On Question 27, you must indicate your eligibility category (that is, why you are eligible for a work permit). Enter only one category. The ones that pertain to asylum are:

  • If you were granted refugee status: Mark category (a)(3). Also make sure to attach either a copy of your Form I-590 (Registration for Classification as Refugee) approval letter or a copy of Form I-730 (Relative Petition) approval notice.
  • If you were granted asylum: Mark category (a)(5). Attach a copy of the USCIS letter or an immigration judge’s decision granting your asylum.
  • If you have applied for asylum and your application has been pending for more than 365 days and you have not caused any delays that remain unresolved: Mark category (c)(8). Attach a copy of the USCIS notice saying that it received your asylum application or other evidence that you had filed your asylum application with USCIS or the Immigration Court.

You must file your EAD application with the following supporting documents:

  • a copy of Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), if you have one
  • a copy of your last EAD (if you are applying for a renewal or replacement EAD)
  • if you do not have a Form I-94 or previous EAD, a copy of a government-issued identity document with your picture, name, and date of birth (such as a passport, national ID document, state ID card, or a visa), and
  • two identical passport-style color photographs of yourself taken within 30 days of filing your EAD application. Make sure to lightly print your name and Alien Number on the back of the photos.

Whether to Include a Filing Fee With Form I-765

Whether you have to submit a payment with your EAD application depends on two factors: what your eligibility category is and whether you are filing for EAD for the first time.

If you are a refugee (eligibility category (a)(3)), an asylee (category (a)(5)), or an asylum applicant (category (c)(8)) AND you are filing for your an EAD, there will be a filing fee imposed starting on October 2, 2020, in the same amount as others pay, namely $550. In addition, starting in October, you will need to pay a biometrics services fee of $30. Check the I-765 instructions before submitting your application to make sure you have included the appropriate fees.

Because EADs have specific expiration dates, you will probably need to file for a renewal EAD at a later point. When applying for a renewal EAD, even if you are in one of these three eligibility categories, you will need to pay the filing fee. It is $410 until October 2, 2020, after which it becomes $550.

Again, check the I-765 Form page of the USCIS website for the latest filing fees.

You might be able to apply for a fee waiver so that you do not have to pay the filing fee. See Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, on the USCIS website. You'll send it along with your I-765, in place of the fee. If it's approved, you won't have to pay any fee.

Where to File Form I-765 and Supporting Documents

The address to which you will need to submit your complete EAD application will depend on your eligibility category and where you live.

If you are a refugee, have been granted asylum, or have an asylum application that has been pending for more than 365 days (that is, if you meet eligibility categories (a)(3), (a)(5), or (c)(8)), you will need to file your EAD application with all the supporting documents (and with the fee, if applicable) to a location specified on the USCIS website.

Finally, before submitting your EAD application, make a copy to keep in your records.

What Happens After You Submit Form I-765

Check USCIS’s case status page to monitor the agency's action on your EAD application. Unfortunately, it could take several months. In the past, immigration regulations gave USCIS a 30-day deadline for asylum applicant, but in 2020 USCIS removed that provision.

If the delays go past USCIS's normal processing times without explanation, call the USCIS Contact Center or submit an online case inquiry.

If your EAD application is approved, you will be mailed your EAD. If it's denied USCIS will send a notice explaining the reason. You cannot appeal the denial. However, you may submit a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider with the office that made the decision. If you need to do that, you might want to consult an attorney.

Your EAD will be the size of a state driver’s license or a credit card. It will have your picture on it and some identifying information. When you receive your EAD, make sure to look at its expiration date, written on the front. That date specifies how long you are authorized to work in the United States. You can (and should) apply for EAD renewal before your expiration date, as long as you continue to fit into one of the eligibility categories.

The categories do not need to be the same for each of your EAD applications. For example, you might file your initial EAD application as an asylum applicant (category (c)(8)) and your renewal EAD application as an asylee (category (a)(5)).

To apply for renewal, submit a new Form I-765. Note that you typically cannot file for a renewal EAD more than 120 days before your original EAD expires.

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