When individuals contemplate immigrating to the United States, their first thought usually sways toward a green card. While this may be the ultimate goal, there are other options available that would allow you to work in the United States until a green card is issued.

Individuals receive Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) when they have a pending Immigration Petition for Permanent Residence. This is also known as an I-485 application. The card permits non-citizens to legally work in the United States for a U.S. employer. In this post, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between EAD cards and green cards as well as the timeline and process.

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What is EAD Card: Employment Authorization?

An EAD, commonly known as a work permit, is a legal document issued by the USCIS. It grants the holder the right to work in the United States for a specified period, typically one or two years, but it can vary based on the immigration situation. There are two categories of EADs: one is linked to a green card application, and the other is independent of a green card.

Green Card-Based EAD

A green card-based EAD is issued to those whose green card application is being processed. While a green card on its own covers both permanent residence and a work permit, in most cases, the processing time is quite lengthy. In some instances, applicants will need to wait for more than a decade to complete their green card application process.

To allow applicants to have a legal avenue to work and earn a living while waiting for their green cards, the USCIS can issue them an EAD, which serves as temporary authorization to work. An EAD issued for this purpose will automatically expire the moment the applicant receives their green card. Both the green card and EAD applications can be submitted to the USCIS at the same time. While your green card processing may take years, a properly filed EAD application is processed within 60 to 90 days.

Regular EAD

Unlike the green card-based EAD, the regular EAD refers to a nonimmigrant work permit and is not tied to a green card application process. Three main categories would make you eligible for this employment authorization card. According to the USCIS, they are as follows:

Category One: You must have employment authorization that will result from your pending nonimmigrant status.

Category Two: You must have the authorization to work for a specific employer due to your nonimmigrant status.

Category Three: You must fall in a category that permits you to file for employment authorization. This can be any of the following:

  • A person who has sought asylum or refuge in the U.S. as well as their dependents and spouse
  • An F-1 or M-1 student that falls under certain categories
  • The spouse of an exchange visitor
  • An employee whose work is related to a diplomatic mission, NATO, or another International Organization
  • A nonimmigrant with a family-based status (such as a K visa)

It is important to note that just because you fall into one of these categories does not automatically make you eligible for an EAD card. Because each situation comes with different regulations, it is important to work with your immigration attorney to learn if you qualify.

UPDATE: This temporary rule is just that – temporary. As of October 27th, 2023, the automatic extension of the employment authorization and EAD validity will go back to the 180-day period for eligible applicants who file Form I-765 renewal applications. This extension is for applicants who filed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

EAD Processing Time 2023

Currently, processing times are hovering around 3-7 months, depending on the service center processing your application. Here is a look at the fastest and slowest approval times as the U.S.’s primary service centers.

  • Potomac Service Center
    • H4- Based Applications – 80% of cases are completed within 4 Months
    • All Others – 80% of cases are completed within 18 Months
  • Texas Service Center
    • H4- Based Applications – 80% of cases are completed within 3 Months
    • All Others – 80% of cases are completed within 3.5 Months
  • National Benefits Center
    • All – 80% of cases are completed within a year
  • Nebraska Service Center
    • H4- Based Applications – 80% of cases are completed within 3 Months
    • All Others – 80% of cases are completed within 11 Months
  • Vermont Service Center
    • H4- Based Applications – 80% of cases are completed within 3 Months
    • All Others – 80% of cases are completed within 5 Months
  • California Service Center
    • H4- Based Applications – 80% of cases are completed within 4 Months
    • All Others – 80% of cases are completed within 10.5 Months

From the time that your EAD is approved and the status shows ‘card sent for printing’ you can expect to receive it within 5-7 days. If you have questions about your specific situation, use the USCIS Processing Time Checker.

What can I do if my EAD processing time is taking a long time?

If your application is still processing and it has taken longer than the average processing time at the service center you are able to make a service request with USCIS for them to look at your case. Speak to an immigration attorney if you have any further questions regarding your processing status. A 20-minute consultation with VisaNation may offer all the guidance you need.

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What is the Difference Between an EAD Card vs Green Card?

Though an Employment Authorization Card (often referred to as a work permit) and a green card may look similar, they serve different functions and represent different stages in the U.S. immigration process. Essentially, a green card signifies the achievement of permanent residency, while an EAD card is a stepping stone towards that ultimate objective.

A green card primarily serves to recognize the holder as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Employers are legally obligated to ensure that all employees have the appropriate work authorization within the U.S. Below are some of the key differences.

A Green Card Serves Multiple Purposes

A green card gives you both lawful permanent resident status and the legal right to work in the U.S. With your green card, you do not need any other document to prove your eligibility to work since that is an inherent benefit of the green card or citizenship.

On the other hand, an EAD is not a stand-alone document on its own. You cannot just come to the United States solely to apply for an EAD. It must be tied to an underlying status, to which the EAD will be issued. This may be via a work visa or other means.

Opportunity to Travel Internationally

One significant benefit for green card holders is the freedom to travel internationally without hassle. If you leave the U.S., your green card allows you to re-enter the country with minimal documentation. This is not the case for those holding only an Employment Authorization Card (EAD). To gain re-entry to the U.S. with an EAD, you must apply for a separate travel document using Form I-131.

Ability to Sponsor Green Card Applications for Relatives

Holding a green card in the United States not only affords you the status of a lawful permanent resident but also empowers you to sponsor certain immediate family members, enabling them to pursue their paths to permanent residency. Specifically, green card holders can sponsor their spouses and unmarried children. In contrast, having an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) doesn’t bestow this capability.

The privilege to sponsor a broader range of family members, including parents, married children, and siblings, becomes available only when one attains U.S. citizenship. Thus, while an EAD provides the right to work, it doesn’t come with the family reunification benefits inherent to the green card or citizenship status.

Permanent Over Temporary

Validity is another major difference between an EAD and a green card. A permanent green card is typically issued with a ten-year validity period. However, because it is a permanent status, you can always renew it and continue working and living in the U.S. for as long as you’d like.

In contrast, an EAD is issued based on your underlying status in the U.S. If the underlying status ends, your right to work in the U.S. also comes to an end. For example, you may apply for a work permit because you have a pending work visa application. However, if the application is denied, your work permit will become invalid.

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Qualification for Citizenship

The United States citizenship law allows foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Citizenship status gives you the highest privileges in the United States that other statuses don’t enjoy.

For instance, you can vote and run for public office during elections. However, citizenship is only attainable for foreign nationals who have already attained lawful permanent resident status. You cannot become a citizen on the basis of being an EAD holder.

EAD vs Green Card

Compared to a green card, an employment authorization card (or work permit) is much more limited in what you can do, although it is available to a wide range of nonimmigrant categories as well as those waiting for pending applications with USCIS. What’s more, unlike green cards, EAD cards can range in their validity period depending on the status of the cardholder.

ead card vs green card

For instance, an individual who is in the U.S. on a K1 visa may likely apply for an employment authorization card that lasts only 90 days. It’s also worth noting that green cards granted to lawful conditional residents are only valid for a period of two years. In these instances, if the proper steps are not taken to adjust the status to permanent residency, the status has a finite lifespan.

However, once those conditions are lifted and permanent residency is granted. Your green card typically has a validity period of ten years.

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Similarities Between a Green Card and EAD

Rights to Renew Status

Both the green card and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) typically come with renewal options. While many refer to the green card as a permanent resident card, it can initially have a validity period of just two years. Known as a conditional green card, this serves as a probationary period for the holder. To transition to a non-conditional, ten-year green card, you must complete specific procedures to remove these conditions.

Similarly, the validity period of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) usually aligns with the duration of your nonimmigrant status. If you maintain an underlying status, you can apply for its renewal.

Possible Deportation

Both the green card holder and EAD holder can be deported from the United States. Though a green card is considered permanent resident status, it is only valid for as long as you maintain the guidelines surrounding your green card status.

If a green card holder is judged to have committed a deportable offense, he or she will be deported. Grounds for deportation include drug-related or sex crimes, terrorism, fraud, and other related offenses. The same thing applies to an EAD holder on a nonimmigrant status. Only those with U.S. citizenship are fully protected from deportation.

What is the EAD category C09P?

EAD C09P is the designation in the code of regulations for the ability to work for those with a pending application for AOS. Since you are applying for an employment authorization document and advance parole simultaneously, the card you get is called a C09P EAD (sometimes nicknamed combo card.) This card is valid for one year. If you have more questions regarding the CO9P, a 20-minute consultation with VisaNation Law Group immigration attorneys can clear things up for you.

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Disadvantages of a Green Card

One of the main drawbacks of a green card is the processing time. Speak to an immigration attorney if you want to know more about the processing time for your given application. Each year, a limited amount of employment and family-based green cards are issued. Because the immigrant petitions usually exceed this limit, a backlog has built up for several green card preference levels. Depending on which category of green card you have applied for, you may find yourself waiting a very long time.

For instance, as of this post, the current wait time for an EB-3 green card for residents of mainland China is eleven years. It is even worse for family-based visas. An F4 green card for residents of the Philippines is over twenty years.

This is because citizens of China and the Philippines have filed more petitions than there were available visas, causing certain categories to become over-prescribed. When that happens, the USCIS goes on a first-come, first-serve basis. The sooner you file your petition, the sooner a visa number will become available.

Because many people cannot wait that long to begin working, nonimmigrant work visas and EAD cards are two possible methods of obtaining employment in the interim.

EAD to Green Card Processing Time

While processing time to receive an EAD may vary depending on the service center by regulation, the USCIS is allowed up to 90 days to process your EAD application. Be aware that having a pending EAD does not authorize you to work; the EAD card must actually be approved.

Also, note that there is no premium processing option for employment authorization documents. For that reason, planning ahead of time is strongly recommended to avoid any gaps in employment time. Consult with a VisaNation Law Group immigration attorney to learn more about renewals and processing time.

What is the Process if My EAD Has Expired?

If your EAD card is expired or is about to expire, you are likely wondering how to renew your employment authorization. You will not be able to renew your EAD more than 120 days before it expires.

If it has already expired, then you can file a renewal by submitting an Application for Employment Authorization, Form I-765. Alternatively, if you need a replacement EAD because it contains incorrect information (not the fault of USCIS) or it has been lost, stolen, or damaged, you will need to submit a new I-765 and filing fee plus the EAD card containing the error.

H4 EAD Rule

New legislation has been enacted for H4 holders who will be eligible for the benefits of employment authorization. To qualify, however, you must meet the necessary criteria. The first is that the principal H-1B worker has to have an approved I-140 OR have been approved for H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act.

Click here to read the full H4 EAD frequently asked questions and answers.

H4 EAD Timeline

  1. File I-765 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
  2. Submit the appropriate documents to prove eligibility
  3. USCIS will approve, deny or send you a request for evidence
  4. When your petition is approved, wait for your EAD to arrive (you should receive it about 5-7 days after the status says ‘card sent for printing’)
  5. Receive your card in the mail you’re set to start working full-time or part-time if you like and even for more than one employer if you want! USCIS does not limit the sponsor of an H4 EAD holder. Moving from one job to the next will not jeopardize your H4 status.
  6. As an H-4 visa holder, you also have the right to apply for a green card since H-4s are dual intent.

The EAD timeline will differ slightly depending on your immigration status. Consult your immigration attorney about the most up-to-date steps for your situation.

EAD vs Green Card Recap

If your goals are just to work in the United States for a period of time and not necessarily establish it as your permanent residence, then it may be best to just apply for an EAD and bypass the green card application process altogether. Again, the EAD vs Green card debate is one best handled by an immigration attorney who can review the specifics of your case.

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VisaNation Law Group attorneys can provide further details regarding your green card application or employment authorization during your phone consultation. With decades of combined experience with a wide range of immigration cases, VisaNation Law Group attorneys are more than capable of simplifying your immigration journey and filing your EAD application.

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