When individuals contemplate immigrating to the United States, their first thought usually sways towards 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. Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) are granted when an individual has a pending Immigration Petition for Permanent Residence or I-485. 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.
Difference Between EAD card vs Green Card
While the employment authorization card (otherwise known as a work permit) and the green card share similar physical characteristics, they are very different in practice. For starters, a green card is an end goal while an EAD card is a means to achieve that goal.
A green card’s main purpose is to identify a foreign individual as a person who has lawful permanent resident status. By law, employers in the U.S. are required to make sure all of their employees have the proper authorization to work in the country.
Showing a valid EAD card fulfills that requirement, although U.S. citizens and green card holders (lawful permanent residents) do not need this document to prove work eligibility since it is an inherent benefit of the green card or citizenship. Another advantage that green card holders possess is the ability to travel freely in and out of the country, file petitions for unmarried children and spouses to live in the U.S., and more.
Other advantages that green card holders possess is the ability to travel freely in and out of the country, file petitions for unmarried children and spouses to live in the U.S., and more. The EAD card does not allow these benefits. To travel in and out of the U.S., you must file for a travel document with the I-131 form. To file immigrant petitions for family members, you must be a green card holder or U.S. citizen.
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 non-immigrant 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 card holder.
For instance, an individual who is in the U.S. on a fiance/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.
Disadvantages of a Green Card
One of the main drawbacks to a green card is the processing time. 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 the family-based visas. For an F4 green card for residents of the Philippines is almost twenty-four 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 by 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, non-immigrant work visas and EAD cards are two possible methods of obtaining employment in the interim.
Who Qualifies for Employment Authorization?
There are three main categories that would make you eligible for an employment authorization card. According to 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 which 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 non-immigrant 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. Becuase each situation comes with different regulations, it is important to work with your immigration attorney to learn if you qualify.
EAD vs H1B Work Restrictions
There are many ways to obtain a green card and there is often a debate as to which route is a better choice–EAD or H-1B visa. Below is a chart showing the differences between EAD and H-1B work options.
As you can see, employment authorization cards have a host of advantages when it comes to qualifications and flexibility. However, the H-1B allows holders to work for a total of six years after extension while EADs are typically issued for a validity period of one or two years. So either option may be best for your situation depending on your employment and qualifications.
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 an EAD that is pending 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 one of our immigration attorneys 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.
New H4 EAD Rule
New legislation has been enacted for H4 holders who will be eligible for the benefits of employment authorization. In order to qualify, however, you must meet the necessary criteria. The first being 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.
UPDATE: The H-4 EAD rule has come to the attention of the new presidential administration. As of the writing of this update in January, 2018, this rule is being considered for removal, which would make it impossible for the spouses of H-1B holders to gain employment through the EAD. However, there may be other routes to employment for this immigration demographic. Speak with your immigration attorney to find out what is most appropriate for your case.
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.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
The attorneys at SGM Law group can go into further detail regarding a green card application or employment authorization during your initial consultation. With years handling all sorts of immigration cases, we’re more than able to process your EAD paperwork and guide you along the way. Call us to see if you qualify for a free consultation and to see how you can benefit from our services!