Working in the United States While Waiting for Your Green Card

Congratulations on your marriage! If you are married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder and applying for a green card (permanent residency), you may be wondering when you can start working in the United States. Here are some common questions...

Q. I’m married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder and living in the United States. Can I start working while I’m waiting for my green card?

A. Anyone who already has a valid work visa (for example, an H-1B or L-1 visa) can continue working even while applying for a green card.

Otherwise, green card applicants aren’t allowed to start working in the United States until they obtain a work permit (officially called an “Employment Authorization Document” or EAD).

For spouses of U.S. citizens, the work permit application is typically filed as part of the initial green card application package. (For details, see Green Cards for Spouses of U.S. Citizens Living in the United States.)

Spouses of U.S. green card holders, however, must wait until they are in the “adjustment of status” stage of their green card application process to apply for a work permit. (For details, see Start to Finish: Green Cards for Spouses of Green Card Holders Living in the United States.)

Q. How long will I wait for the work permit?

A. The work permit typically arrives just about 90 days after the application is received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (It takes much longer for the green card itself to arrive: 9-15 months or nearly 3 years, depending on the situation.)

Q. Can I apply for my green card and my work permit from the United States, and then return to my home country to work while I wait?

A. Green card applicants must wait until their travel permit (officially the “advance parole travel document”) is approved before they can leave the United States. If an applicant leaves the United States before the travel permit is approved, then his or her green card application is considered abandoned.

Both the work permit application and the travel permit application generally take 90 days to process, and are part of the same filing package as the green card application (technically called Form I-485). This means that by the time the travel permit is approved, the applicant will have the choice of whether to stay in the United States to work with an approved work permit, or to travel and work abroad.

Q. Can my U.S. citizen spouse file a work permit application on my behalf?

A. A U.S. citizen may not file a work permit application on his or her spouse’s behalf. The work permit application (technically called Form I-765) is signed by the spouse seeking the green card.

Q. What kind of jobs can I accept if my work permit is approved?

A. The work permit that’s tied to a marriage-based green card application does not restrict the type of employment that’s allowed. Someone with this work permit may accept any employment that is otherwise legal.

Q. How many hours can I work if my work permit is approved?

A. The work permit that’s tied to a marriage-based green card application does not restrict the number of working hours that are allowed. Either part-time or full-time work may be accepted.

Q. What happens to my work permit after my green card application is approved?

A. The work permit automatically terminates after the green card application is approved.

But that’s a good thing! Once the green card application (technically the Form I-485) has been approved by USCIS, there’s no more need for a separate work permit. The green card applicant is now authorized to work in the United States, both before and after the physical green card arrives.

Q. Okay, now what if I’m married to a U.S. citizen or U.S. green card holder, but still living in my home country? If I apply for a marriage-based green card while in my home country, can I also apply for a U.S. work permit?

A. A work permit is only available to spouses of U.S. citizens and green card holders who file their green card application (Form I-485) while in the United States.

A spouse living outside the United States isn’t authorized to work in the United States until the green card application process is complete. (This can take 9-15 months for spouses of U.S. citizens, or 22-29 months for spouses of U.S. green card holders.)

Want to learn more?

Obtaining a green card for your spouse doesn’t have to be confusing.  Here’s an overview of the marriage-based green card process, explained in plain language.

For an in-depth look at work permit applications, check out The Work Permit, Explained.

 

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