Q: Is there a way to just apply for a stand-alone EAD (work permit)?
A: Contrary to popular belief, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in US immigration law is not something you can apply for independently. An EAD is always tied to an underlying non-immigrant status (for example, F-1 OPT), and is only valid while that underlying status is valid.
In order to apply for an EAD you need to fall under one of the specific categories. For example, spouses of a J-1 exchange visitor visa holder can apply; another common example is a foreign national who has filed an application for adjustment of status (I-485), who can apply and use an EAD to work during the time this application is pending.
It is important to note that an EAD is always tied to a specific situation, as described above, and when the situation ends (for example, if the I-485 is no longer pending and a decision has been rendered), you can no longer use your EAD even if the card was issued for a longer validity date.
Q: Does an EAD give you the right to travel in and out of the United States?
A: An EAD on its own does not give you the ability to travel in and out of the United States – for this, you need a valid visa or travel authorization document. As noted above, an EAD is tied to an underlying status in the U.S. which you applied for separately and which serves as the basis for the employment authorization. When the underlying status ends, the EAD can no longer be used.
Q: Can you start working once you receive the EAD Approval Notice (Form I-797C)?
A: In most cases, you need to wait until you receive the actual EAD card. There are certain narrow categories of exceptions in renewal cases, for example, so consult with a lawyer if you are not sure.
Q: Do all visa types need an EAD to start working?
A: No. For many employment-based visa categories, applicants can start working “incident to status” (which means, as soon as the petition is approved) and do not need an EAD to begin working, and will not be able to apply for one. For example, E-1 treaty trader and E-2 investor visa holders and their spouses, O-1 visa holders, L-1 visa holders and their spouses, H visa holders, P visa holders can start working upon entry to the U.S. and do not apply for an EAD to evidence this work authorization.
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