Can I work in the U.S. if I am not a U.S. citizen?
Even if you are not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, you may still be able to work in the U.S. By gaining a work permit, or an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”), you become eligible to work in the U.S. for a certain period of time, so long as you fall within a certain category of persons.
Temporary work visas -- immigration visas that permit a limited stay of employment in the U.S. -- come in different types and apply to various occupations. Some may be pursued by the foreign employee while others must be obtained through a petition by an employer on the employee's behalf. Congress created the immigration laws with an eye toward foreign workers not not displacing Americans from the workforce. Note that visa processing is typically quicker for highly skilled workers than for those with less education and skills. Depending on your occupation and education, you may qualify to work in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant H-1B alien (see below).
You are required to obtain an EAD in order to work in the U.S. if you fall within certain categories, including students, fiancés of U.S. citizens, and persons seeking asylum or refugee status. You can find a complete listing of these categories on Form I-765, or the Application for Employment Authorization, which you must fill out in order to apply for an EAD.
The normal filing fee for an EAD application is $340.00. However, in some circumstances, you may not have to pay a fee. For example, if you have applied to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent resident, you do not have to pay a filing fee for an EAD application.
Additionally, you may qualify to work as a H-1B alien if you are employed in a specialty occupation. In order to qualify as a person working in a specialty occupation, you must hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and be engaged in the theoretical or practical application of a certain body of knowledge, such as architecture, engineering, medicine, or law.
If you qualify as a person working in a specialty occupation, a specific employer files an application on your behalf, up to six months before your proposed employment date. There is a base filing fee of $190.00 for an H-1B application, along with other fees, depending on the employer’s circumstances. For instance, an employer can have its application processed within 15 days if it pays a $1,000 premium processing fee. The various applications and forms necessary in order to employ a person as a H-1B alien are also available at www.uscis.gov.
You currently can work in the U.S. as a H-1B alien for up to six years at a time, which may be extended under some circumstances. For instance, this time period may be extended up to ten years if you are working on certain Defense Department projects. Once your time period has expired, however, you must leave the U.S. for at least one year before again applying for an EAD.
There are limitations on the number of H-1B aliens that can work in the U.S. each year. Currently, there is a limit of 65,000 workers per year; this limit has been temporarily increased in some past years. There is also a maximum of 20,000 workers holding a masters’ degree or higher that are not subject to the regular H-1B alien cap.
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