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How to fill out Form I-766 for an employment authorization document

The United States workforce has always benefited from a diverse talent pool of people from other countries. If you’re a foreign national interested in working in the U.S., then filing Form I-766 is one of your options.

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How to fill out Form I-766 for an employment authorization document 

The United States workforce has always benefited from a diverse talent pool of people from other countries. If you’re a foreign national interested in working in the U.S., then filing Form I-766 is one of your options.

Form I-766 is used as a temporary employment authorization granted to noncitizens of the U.S. It is essentially a card that contains basic information about the foreign national, including the terms and conditions of employment authorization and date of validity.

Below, we provide more information about Form I-766, including who is eligible for a work permit and how to complete and file the form. 

What is Form I-766?

Form I-766 is otherwise known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or a work permit. It is typically filed by individuals who are in the middle of applying for a Green Card but would like to work before the application has been approved. It’s also a popular option for foreign nationals who aren’t permanent residents yet currently residing in the U.S. and would like to seek employment.

Once an EAD card is granted, the applicant is legally permitted to work. The validity of the EAD card is usually 1 to 2 years, depending on the type of visa the applicant holds. The EAD will expire at the same time the applicant’s visa expires. However, there are special circumstances that can automatically renew the work permit up to a period of 180 days, such as when a foreign national is in the middle of renewing the work permit and there are delays to the process prompted by USCIS. The work permit should be renewed 6 months before the stated expiration date.

Is there a difference between Form I-765 and Form I-766? 

An EAD comes in two types:

  • Form I-765: The actual EAD

  • Form I-766: The EAD card

The two are essentially the same. Form I-765 acts as the certificate and is sufficient proof that a foreign national is eligible for employment. Form I-766 is issued in the form of a card that can easily fit into the wallet yet and may still be used to prove eligibility for employment. 

The benefit of the card is that it is compact, easier to transport, and sturdier than the document. 

Form I-766 eligibility requirements

Not all foreign nationals are eligible for a Form I-766 work permit. Only those who have the following visa categories are considered eligible for employment authorization:

  • F-1 or M-1 visa holders

  • Spouses of E1, E2, and H1-B visa holders

  • K-1 visa holders

  • Refugees

  • Green Card applicants who applied for an Adjustment of Status or are waiting for the decision on their case

  • Those who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

  • Asylum seekers that are legally permitted to stay in the U.S.

  • Citizens of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands

Eligibility does not mean automatic success when applying for Form I-1766. USCIS will process and determine the eligibility of your application, after which you will then be granted a work permit if successful.

Who is not eligible for Form I-766?

The following individuals are not eligible for Form I-766: 

  • Those who have a visa waived for pleasure purposes

  • B-2 visitors who are traveling for pleasure

  • Those who are transitioning at a U.S. port-of-entry

Individuals who are not eligible for Form I-766, regardless of the fact that they are permitted to work under certain conditions, include: 

  • Temporary non-immigrant employees who work for sponsoring organizations and have any of these statuses: 

    • H

    • I

    • L-1

    • O-1

  • Exchange visitors who are employed by sponsoring organizations

  • Foreign students who have an F-1 nonimmigrant visa status who are seeking: 

    • Employment on-campus

    • Paid curricular practical training 

Required documents

Form I-766 should be submitted with the following documents: 

  • Copy of your travel record (I-94)

  • Copy of your U.S. visa

  • Two passport-style photographs

  • Copy of the photo page of your passport showing your country of birth

  • Copy of marriage-based Green Card application (if applicable)

You are eligible to apply for Form I-766 if you are in the middle of processing your marriage-based Green Card. You will need to provide the receipt notice issued by USCIS the day they received your application.

Is there a filing fee for Form I-766? 

Yes. The fee is $410 and will need to be submitted with the application. Only personal checks, cashier’s checks, and money orders are accepted; cash will not be accepted.

An additional $85 will also have to be paid for biometric services if you are filing Form I-766 with one of the following eligibility cases:

  • Requesting consideration of DACA (see above);

  • As a beneficiary of an approved employment-based immigration petition and facing compelling circumstances; or

  • A spouse or an unmarried dependent minor of a beneficiary with an employment-based immigration petition facing compelling circumstances

Other eligibility cases may not require biometric testing and will have no additional fees.

In some cases, an individual may be exempt from paying certain fees. See the form instructions for more information regarding fee waivers, which can be found in this USCIS page.

If you file Form I-766 with USCIS, you don’t need to include the biometric services fee. Wait until you receive a notification for biometric services appointment containing instructions on how to submit the additional biometric services fee.

All copies of your application containing the notice of your biometric test should be retained, as well as any copies of filing fee receipts. 

What is the processing time for Form I-766?

Compared to Green Card applications, the processing time for Form I-766 is generally shorter and may take less than 6 months to complete. In some cases, especially if USCIS sends you a Request for Evidence (RFE), then it may take longer. 

Following the submission of the evidence, USCIS may take an additional 60-90 days to review the supporting documentation and make a decision about your application.

How will you know if your application was approved or denied? 

USCIS will issue a notice letting you know the decision of your application to the address you provided in the form. If your application isn’t approved, they’ll provide a reason why. If approved, you will receive the I-766 card that permits you to work in the U.S.

Additional information 

Foreign nationals who wish to work will naturally have several concerns about filing Form I-766. Below are some of the questions and answers to some of the common ones.

Can you travel abroad with your work permit?

Your I-766 only allows you to work in the U.S. and cannot replace a passport, visa, and/or other types of travel-related documents. A U.S. visa, valid passport, and I-94 travel records will still be needed to be eligible for the I-766 card.

You may, however, travel abroad once your I-766 has been approved as long as you have a valid passport and visa with you, provided that no specific travel restrictions are imposed on you. The I-766 card also cannot be used to cross the U.S. border. It should only be used as evidence for employment authorization.

What information do you need to provide in your application? 

Form I-766 will indicate all of the information USCIS needs to process your application. You can find the actual form on the USCIS website, as well as the instructions for the form. Click here to visit the site. 

If for any reason you are having trouble completing the form, it may be best to consult with an immigration attorney to ensure that all necessary information is provided and free of errors. 

If you are not eligible to file for a work permit (see above), the application may likely be denied and the filing fee will not be returned, so make sure you do qualify before filing Form I-766.

Is the filing fee refundable? 

No, the filing fee is not refundable. If your application is not approved, your filing fee will not be reimbursed. 

Can a work permit be renewed? 

Yes, it can be renewed as long as you are still eligible to hold employment in the U.S. and your work permit is set to expire before your U.S. visa. You can file for renewal by submitting a new Form I-766, as well as the filing fee, if applicable. If a fee waiver is requested and approved, you will no longer need to submit a filing fee. 

Can a work permit be replaced? 

Yes, a replacement work permit can be issued if the previous I-766 card has been lost, stolen, or destroyed. The same as renewing the work permit, you are required to file a new Form I-766 and submit the filing fee, unless a filing fee waiver has been requested. 

The takeaway

Filing form I-766 is one of the crucial steps to take to finally start and build a career in the U.S. Compared to I-765, the certificate form of EAD, I-766 provides you with a card that’s convenient to carry around to prove your right to employment in the U.S.

If you’re currently looking for easier ways to transition into your new life in the U.S., consider transferring international credit from your country of origin to the U.S. so you can enjoy financial products such as credit cards and loans. Improve your purchasing power with Nova Credit, a company dedicated to helping foreign nationals by translating credit data into a U.S.-equivalent credit score so they can arrive, thrive, and pursue the career of their dreams. Learn more here.

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