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Globally, a highly sought-after goal is working in the U.S. There are numerous ways to contribute to the American workforce, and the EAD and the H-1B are two. Knowing how these two tools of immigration relate can be vital to your efforts to work in the U.S. Here are the pros and cons of the EAD vs. H-1B that will help you to make the right decision and learn about the critical differences between the two.

EAD vs. H-1B Difference: Pros and Cons

The most significant difference between EAD and H-1B is that EAD is strictly an approval to work in the U.S. for foreigners that are on a non-immigrant visa. On the other hand, H-1B is an immigrant visa that allows foreigners to work for a specific employer and eventually apply for lawful permanent residency.

Now that we understand the fundamental difference between the H-1B and the EAD, they have some advantages and disadvantages.

H-1B Advantages

  • Validity period of up to six years
  • Wide range of eligible candidates
  • Allows spouse and dependents to live and work in the U.S.
  • Mandatory fees are not the responsibility of the beneficiary
  • The processing time is a six-month average with the possibility of expediting it to 15 days

H-1B Disadvantages

  • Most petitions are restricted to the annual lottery, reducing the chances of obtaining the visa and limiting the time frame in which a visa can be obtained
  • The process of obtaining an H-1B is more complex
  • You must work in a specialty position
  • You must have at least a bachelor’s degree related to that position

EAD Advantages

  • With only one form to submit it, it is easy to obtain
  • Not limited to an annual cap or lottery
  • You do not need to work in a specialty position
  • You do not need any specific level of education

EAD Disadvantages

  • Typically valid for only two years
  • Only available for particular immigration cases
  • Does not allow spouses or dependents to work in the U.S.
  • Filing fee is the beneficiary’s responsibility
  • The processing time is a minimum of 3 months with no way of expediting the process

Should I Switch from H-1B to EAD?

Switching from H-1B to EAD is useful when you are having trouble transitioning to a new employer with your H-1B or if you don’t want to be tied to one employer as you would be with H-1B. EAD allows you to work for any employer, and switching to it from H-1B can be helpful to some foreign workers that need that flexibility.

Keep in mind that to be able to switch from H-1B to EAD, you will first need to apply and have USCIS approve your EAD. The application process is quite simple. You must submit form I-765, attach relevant evidence and pay the filing fees. You will generally receive a response within 90 days.

Do I need H-1B If I Have EAD?

You don’t need to get an EAD if you are already working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. If you were to get an EAD while on H-1B, this would terminate your H-1B visa status. This is because your H-1B visa is employer specific, while EAD is not employer-specific work authorization.

This also applies the other way around. If you already have EAD, you do not need to apply for H-1B. However, because H-1B is an immigrant visa, meaning you can transition to lawful permanent residency, it could be worth getting an H-1B visa. Again, this decision depends on your current residency status and the visa on which you entered the U.S.

More About H-1B

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows specialized workers to work in the U.S. Due to its relatively low eligibility requirements, the H-1B is the most popular non-immigrant visa available. Unfortunately, this has given rise to a system that can make obtaining one difficult.

Here are the basic requirements you need to qualify:

  • You must have a valid job offer from a U.S. employer
  • The job must be for a specialty position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree
  • You must possess that bachelor’s degree

While these may seem simple, they have some nuances to note. For example, the USCIS carefully scrutinizes whether or not a position is a specialty. Working with an immigration attorney can help you better predict what the USCIS will think of your position.

Another thing to keep in mind is the employer-employee relationship. The employer needs to be able to control the duties, wages, and employment status of the employee. Because of this, you cannot self-petition for an H-1B visa, and working for your own company can be tricky to get approved.

The H-1B Lottery

But there’s one major issue you must overcome when considering the H-1B vs. EAD: the lottery. Due to the massive volume of H-1B petitions the USCIS receives each year, USCIS holds an annual lottery. There are only 85,000 total slots in the cap, and with hundreds of thousands of submissions each year, the selection odds can be relatively low.

A master’s degree gives you access to the master’s cap, for which the first 20,000 of the 85,000 slots are reserved. If you qualify for the master’s cap and your petition is not selected, it will be re-entered into the regular cap for a second shot. This is the only way to increase your chances of being selected. The lottery takes place starting April 1st, so that is the earliest that your petition can be filed.

If USCIS  selects your petition, they will process it. If approved, you can start working for your employer on October 1st, six months after filing. The H-1B is valid for three years initially with the potential to extend it up to six years. If USCIS does not select your petition in the lottery, they will refund your fees, and you will need to wait until the following year to file again.

H-1B Fees

One notable aspect of the H-1B is that the fees are considerably higher than for other non-immigrant visas or the EAD. Here are the H-1B visa fees as of the 2018 filing season:

  • Basic filing fee for the I-129 – $460
  • Fraud prevention fee – $500
  • ACWIA training fee – $750-$1,500
  • Public Law fee – $4,000 (if applicable)

The total mandatory cost is between $1,710 and $6,460, depending on your situation. Remember that all of these costs are your employer’s responsibility, which sets it apart from the EAD card.

H-1B Processing Time

Numerous factors go into your H-1B visa’s processing time, but the standard is six months for the I-129. You can use premium processing to speed this along, but you will still only be able to file on April 1st and work on October 1st due to the lottery cap, which means you will need to wait six months regardless.

However, if you have a job that exempts your petition from the cap, premium processing can make your H-1B processing time just 15 calendar days.

More About EAD

The EAD is known as an Employment Authorization Document. As the name suggests, this document allows the holder to work in the U.S. for as long as the document is valid, which varies from case to case. We will refer to it as an EAD card since it usually comes as a plastic card with your information.

Overall, the EAD allows you to work if your status does not already allow it, though certain statuses still do not permit working, even through the EAD card. Here are some of the people who may qualify for an EAD card:

  • A refugee or asylee (Temporary Protected Status – TPS) and dependents or spouses.
  • F-1 student visa holders who are pursuing Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • M-1 student visa holders who are also pursuing practical training
  • People who are in the process of adjusting their status
  • J-1 students and their spouses
  • Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • Spouses of H-1B holders who are under H-4 status

Here are some of the people who would not qualify for an EAD card:

  • Certain non-immigrant visa holders (L-1, O-1, H-1B, etc.) because employment authorization is part of their status.
  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) since they can work without an EAD card.
  • The spouses of the above non-immigrant visa holders (except the spouses of H-1B holders)
  • B-1 or B-2 visitor visa holders
  • Those cruise or airline passengers or crew members are transitioning to another country.
  • F-1 and M-1 students who are not pursuing practical training

To get an EAD card, you need to file an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. This form requires a $380 fee and takes about 90 days (3 months) to process, though it may take longer depending on the caseload of the service center.

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Conclusion on EAD vs. H-1B

Ultimately, like most immigration comparisons, the best method is the one that fits your situation. For example, if you are looking to work temporarily in the U.S. or are interested in transitioning toward a green card, the H-1B might be your best bet.

However, if you do not meet the requirements for the H-1B and can qualify for an EAD, then the answer is clear. If you are in the unique position of being able to choose from both, then you should work with your immigration attorney to determine which is best for your case.

VisaNation Law Group Can Help You Choose

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Choosing between getting an EAD or an H-1B can have a drastic effect on your immigration path, it is a decision that is best made with the help of an immigration attorney. The thousands of successful cases processed at VisaNation Law Group have honed their understanding of how the USCIS works and what decisions are best for each individual case.