A work permit is a legal document that officially authorizes you to seek work, get employed, and earn an income in a foreign country, legally.
Most countries require either permanent or temporary work permits to allow you to perform work within their borders and you must go through a multi-step application process to get it.
How do you apply for a work permit?
The application for employment authorization process works differently in every country around the world. We’ll break down the eligibility and application process using the example of the US.
Applying for a work permit in the US
A work permit in the US is also known as Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Form I-766 and is filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The holder of this document is eligible to work and earn an income legally in the US, usually temporarily (as a nonimmigrant worker). Forgein workers are granted a social security number (SSN) with their work permit, which protects them against discrimination based on their immigration status under federal law.
If you have U.S. citizenship or a permanent resident status, you don’t need a work permit. A work permit is also unnecessary if the US-based company decides to hire the worker as a remote contractor or through an employer of record.
To apply for a work permit, you need to fill out the Form I-765. Other than the work permit application form, you need to provide a copy of your passport, US visa and other work permits if applicable, I-94 travel record, and other documentation required for specific cases.
You can obtain more information about each type of work visa here.
If you are in the process of securing the mentioned cards and visas, you may be eligible to apply for a work permit in the meantime.
Other groups eligible for a work permit include:
- Students with off-campus employment through a qualifying international company
- Students who need to work off-campus due to a poor economic situation
- Adjustment of Status applicants
- Dependent spouses of intra-company transferees
- Eligible dependents of Diplomatic Mission employees, and more.
Employers who sponsor their workers’ relocation to the US need to meet the Alien Labor Certification requirements established by the Department of Labor (DOL). USCIS will not issue work permits to individuals who have a tourist visa or have immigrated to the US without proper documentation.
Note US companies can hire remote workers and avoid their relocation and paperwork complications.
Work permit FAQs
Do you need a work permit for every country?
Typically, yes. Every country has its own set of regulations to determine the process and eligibility for the work permit.
Most EU countries follow the same process standardized across the union when it comes to foreign worker employment permits. In France, for example, the employer needs to prove that they weren’t able to find a skilled local worker to fill in the position. In Germany, you can apply for a job-seeker visa even if you don’t have a prospective employer yet.
In the UK, there are multiple ways to apply for a work permit, depending on the type of work you do and other factors. In Singapore, there are three different work permit categories.
How long is a work permit valid?
The EAD work permit usually lasts for a year, but can be valid for more or less than that based on your other visas and permits.
Is a work permit the same as a work visa?
No. Simply put, a visa generally authorizes you to enter a country and reside there during a specified period of time. Some types of visas also allow you to work there, like digital nomad/remote work visas.
Whereas, a work permit is a license specifically obtained to authorize you to earn income in a foreign country. On occasion, it must be obtained regardless of your visa status.
What are the consequences of working without a permit?
If you work without a work permit or with an expired or fake work permit, and don’t have any other immigration status based on which you can work in the US, you’re violating both federal and state law.
Some of the consequences are:
- Issues with an existing green card application process
- Being banned from entering the US during a specific period of time
- Being banned from obtaining any other immigrant visa in the future
The restrictions and legal consequences of violating the law also vary by country. It’s recommended to consult an immigration attorney while applying for a work permit to ensure all documentation is valid and up to date. Alternatively, you can rely on Deel.