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US Work Visa and US Work Permit - Are They Different?
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People often get confused when you start talking about a work visa and work permit. If you are a foreign national and you want to work in the US you will have to have one or the other. But which one do you need. Letís take a closer look at both the terms and learn how you connect to it.

Work Visa

An US work visa can be defined as an endorsement by authorities that give you permission to enter the US for the purpose of work. It denotes that an applicant has applied, been examined, and approved for the visa being sought.

A citizen of a foreign country, who seeks to enter the US, must first obtain a US Visa, which is placed on the travelerís passport. Having a US visa allows you to travel to a port of entry, airport or land border crossing and request permission to enter the US. While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the US, it does indicate that a consular officer at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined that you are eligible to seek entry into the US for a specific purpose.

The US issues different types of visas, which relate to the principal purpose of your travel. A US work visa allows you to enter into the US to take up employment as compared to a US visitor visa which is issued for the purpose of visiting US. Hence to seek entry into the US and work in US, you must have a work visa.

Types of US Work Visas:

The US issues different work visas to suit various purposes of travel and the different natures of employment. Some of them are:

  • E-1 Visa for Treaty Traders
  • E-2 Visa for Treaty Investors
  • E-3 Visa for Australian Specialty workers
  • H-1B Visa for Specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge
  • H-1B1 Visa for FTA professionals from Chile and Singapore
  • H-2A Visa for temporary agricultural workers
  • H-2B Visa for temporary workers performing other services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature
  • TN Visa for NAFTA professional workers from Canada and Mexico
  • P Visa for Performing athletes, artists, entertainers
  • J visa for Physicians
  • R Visa for Religious workers
Did you know?
A work permit is applied when a foreign national is in US, whereas a foreign national seeking to work in the US must obtain a work visa to enter the US.
Work Permit

A work permit, on the other hand, is a generic term applied where a person has been given legal authorization to accept employment. In US immigration terms, the Employment Authorization Document(EAD), issued by the USCIS, is generally referred to as a Work Permit.

What is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

Before a person can be employed in the US, he must prove to an employer that he can legally work in the US. US immigration law requires all US employers to check and make sure that all their employees, regardless of their citizenship or national origin, are legally allowed to work in the United States.

US citizens, permanent residents and others granted long-term status often prove they can legally work by showing an unrestricted Social Security Card and an identity document, such as a driverís license. Certain nonimmigrant visa holders who are eligible to work based upon employment with a specific employer, can show their Form I-94 Arrival and Departure record with their nonimmigrant visa, which will indicate the name of the employer with whom they are authorized to be employed.

In other cases, Employment Authorization must be obtained from the USCIS, in the form of an Employment Authorization Document.

If you are not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (with proof of permanent resident status), you will have to have a work visa or an Employment Authorization Document (work permit) to legally work in the US. If you are a foreign national without a work visa you may need to apply for an EAD to prove your authorization to work in the US.

Letís look at the four different cases and see what is required for each.

John was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since he is a US citizen he does not need anything further, he is allowed to work anywhere and for anyone in the US.

Bill is a national of the United Kingdom. He entered the US on an L-1A visa to head up the finance department of a subsidiary of the company that he works for in the UK. His L-1 visa is a work visa that allows him to work for a specific employer. He only needs to provide his visa and I-94 showing his entry in L-1A status to start work for the new company in the US.

Susan is here with her husband Pierre. Pierre is the executive chef at an exclusive French restaurant that is owned by the company that he has worked for since 1987. Pierre entered the US in E-2 status since his company invested a substantial amount of money to get the restaurant up and running. Susan is getting bored at home and wants to start working. She was an accountant in France before she and Pierre moved to the US. Susanís visa does not allow her to just start working in the US. However, as the spouse of an E-2 treaty investor employee she can get a work permit. She will have to apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before she can work,

Fred is in the US is H-4 status (his wife is a software engineer with a US company). Unfortunately for Fred the spouse of an H-1B cannot get a work permit. He will not be able to work in the US unless he can qualify for a work visa of his own.

Who may be granted an Employment Authorization Document (work permit)?

US immigration law is very specific about who can and cannot work in the US, and who may therefore be issued an Employment Authorization Document (work permit).

The immigration regulations or the EAD application (Form I-765) gives details on the categories of people who are eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to be able to work in the United States. The categories that may be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) include (but are not limited to):
  • Asylee/Refugee and their spouses and children
  • Foreign students seeking Optional Practical Training or who have been offered off-campus employment under the sponsorship of a qualifying international organization or seeking off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship,
  • Eligible Dependents of Employees of Diplomatic Missions, International Organization, or NATO
  • B-1 Nonimmigrant who is the personal or domestic servant of a nonimmigrant employer
  • B-1 nonimmigrant domestic servant of a US citizen
  • Spouse of an E-1/E-2 Treaty Trader or Investor
  • Spouse of an L-1 Intra-Company Transferee
  • K-1 Nonimmigrant Fiancee of a US Citizen or K-2 dependent
  • K-3 nonimmigrant Spouse of a US Citizen or K-4 dependent
  • Adjustment of status applicant based on continuous residence since January 1, 1972
  • Persons in or applying for temporary protected status;
Who does not need an Employment Authorization Document (Work Permit) to work in the US?

  • US citizens do not need a USCIS Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • Lawful permanent residents and conditional permanent residents do not need an Employment Authorization Document. Their Alien Registration Card (green card) proves that they may work in the United States.
  • Foreign nationals with a work visa that authorizes them to work for a specific employer, such as a foreign government, do not need an Employment Authorization Document. Their passport with a valid visa and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) proves that they are authorized to work in the United States
How Do I Apply for Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

Employment Authorization Document (Work Permit) is applied for by using USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The application is submitted, together with supporting documentation, to the office with jurisdiction over the category that you qualify for. This could include one of the USCIS Service Centers, the National Benefits Center, or in some cases with the US State Department (who will then forward the application to the USCIS). Some individuals may be eligible to file Form I-765 electronically.

The supporting documentation includes proof of your current status (passport ID page, visa, and I-94), proof of identity (previous EAD or copy of government-issued photo ID), and 2 passport style color photos.


Though a work visa and work permit may appear to be leading to the same goal of employment in US, they differ on many parameters. As much as you may wish to work while you are in the US you must meet one of the specific categories of individuals that are allowed to work during their authorized stay in the US. In some of these categories your US work visa will give you the authorization to work for a specific employer. In other cases you will have to obtain a US work permit, such as an Employment Authorization Document, from the USCIS. Not everyone is eligible to apply for an EAD so you must carefully check the requirements before filing. With the high filing fee, failure to determine eligibility can be a costly mistake.

Our experienced immigration staff would be happy to assist you in determining eligibility and filing the application.

Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding the H-1B, or need help in filing the H-1B Visa. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.

We also cover the latest happenings on various other work visas in Immigration Monitor, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to Immigration Monitor.

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