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Working While Waiting for Your Green Card

Working While Waiting for Your Green Card


To work for a U.S. employer while you are waiting for your marriage-based green card application (Form I-485), you need to obtain a work permit. Only people who live in the United States may apply for a work permit. Since there are many other factors to consider before and after obtaining a work permit, we suggest contacting your immigration attorney.

Can people married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder and living in the United States work while waiting for a green card?

Immigrants that have a valid work visa, like an H-1B or an L-1 visa are allowed to continue working in the United States while their green card application is being processed. Otherwise, they must obtain an Employment Authorization Document or EAD (work permit) before they can start working.

If you are married to a U.S. citizen: Your work permit application will be filed concurrently or together with the green card application package.

If you are married to a green card holder: You must first be eligible to file for your green card before applying for a work permit. 

How long will you wait for your work permit?

After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your work permit application, you typically have to wait anywhere from five to seven months for it to arrive. The typical processing time for a work permit application is 90 days. However, a growing backlog has caused additional delays. The most current processing times are updated monthly on the USCIS website.

Spouses of green card holders must wait for their visa number before filing the green card application (I-485). This will result in an additional wait time of 19 to 25 months. 

Spouses of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for their visa number. They can file their work permit applications with the initial application package which contains the I-485 form.

Immigrants married to a U.S. citizen usually wait 10 to 13 months for their green card to arrive, while those married to a green card holder often wait for over 3 years. Once you get your green card, you are allowed to work for any U.S. employer without a separate work permit.

Your U.S. citizen spouse may not file a work permit (Form I-765) on your behalf.

Documents you need to submit with your work permit application

  • Copy of your I-94 travel record (front and back), if available, or a printout of your electronic I-94 obtained from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Copy of your U.S. visa from your passport
  • Copy of your passport photo page
  • Copies of your previous work permits (front and back), if any
  • Two 2-inch-by-2-inch passport-style recent photos of yourself with your full name and Alien Registration Number printed on the back of each with a pencil or felt-tip pen
  • Copy of receipt notice (official acknowledgment letter) from USCIS that your marriage-based green card application (Form I-485) is pending if:
    • You are married to a green card holder
    • You are married to a U.S. citizen and applying for a work permit after submitting your green card application

Those immigrants that have not been issued a work permit before must also submit a copy of one of the following government-issued identification forms:

  • Birth certificate and a photo ID
  • Copy of a visa from your passport that was issued by the consulate of a country other than the United States
  • Any other national identity document with your photo and/or fingerprint

Can you apply for a green card and a U.S. work permit while in your home country?

You may apply for a green card while living abroad, but not for a work permit, as work permits are available to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder if they file their green card application from within the United States. People living abroad can work in the United States only after they receive a green card.

Immigrants that apply for a green card from the United States and wish to leave the country before they get it must apply and be approved for a travel permit (Advance Parole Travel Document). Otherwise, your green card application will be considered abandoned by the USCIS. The travel permit usually takes about five to seven months to be approved.

For any additional information contact your Chicago Immigration Lawyer.



This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.



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