The U.S. general work permit, the so-called employment authorization document (EAD), entitles the holder to work legally in the United States during the period for which the EAD is valid. The EAD is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and is similar in size and shape to a credit card. The EAD card includes general information about the holder, such as the person’s name, place of birth, gender, etc.
If you have an appropriate U.S. residence permit, you can apply for a general work permit (Employment Authorization Document EAD). Asylum seekers, refugees, foreign students, as well as family members of holders of E or L work visas (employment-based non-immigrant categories) can qualify for an EAD, which allows them to seek employment in the U.S. independent of their spouses.
Due to the complexity of the issue, we dedicate special attention to the issue of securing EADs for married spouses who usually apply for derivative visas (e.g., E-1, E-2 or L-2 visas).
The granting of such a visa gives family members the right to work in the U.S. Nevertheless, it is necessary to request a general work permit (EAD) in advance if it is not tied to a specific U.S. company.
If you are a U.S. citizen, Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident) or so-called conditional permanent resident, you do not need an EAD.
You need to submit a Form I-765 (application for employment authorization) in order to apply for the EAD. In addition to this form, you need to submit an application for an EAD, a copy of your passport, a check for the amount of the application fee, which is currently $380 (as of 9/23/2013), and other documents depending on your individual situation. You then must send your application and accompanying materials by mail to the appropriate USCIS Service Center, which depends on which group of people that you belong to and where you live in the U.S.
In addition to submitting your application by mail, under certain conditions you may also be able to apply for the EAD online. This depends on the particular visa category that you are applying for. You can find out more information about this issue on the official USCIS website.
An EAD is usually issued at least once per year. However, you can renew your work permit, though the renewal depends on your current residence status. You need to apply for a renewal more than 120 days before the expiration of the old, still valid EAD. EAD applications that are submitted at an earlier date will not be processed by the USCIS.
You can find out about more information, exceptions, and special cases in the general application instructions for Form I-765.