Immigrants can receive a work permit, also known as an EAD—Employee Authorization Document, a few different ways. The first is through applying for a green card, and while the application is processing with the USCIS, the applicant files for working authorization so they can start to make an income before they receive their green card. This is true for spouses who are seeking a green card in the U.S. on behalf of their relationship to a U.S. citizen. Secondly, J-1 students can file for working authorization if they are completing OPT—Optional Practical Training. This ensures that while the student is working for an employer/organization, they will be fairly compensated and will be working legally in the United States.
The third way that immigrants can receive working authorization and a work permit will mostly be the focus of this blog. This is through holding temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred action status (DACA recipients). Such resident aliens can file for working authorization and receive a two-year work permit that will need to be renewed pending their status.
Do Work Permits Mean Equal Access?
The focus on work permits is important for two different reasons. The first is that immigrants coming to the United States need to understand that some companies can be biased in who they are going to hire, and having working authorization in the U.S. does not mean that an employer will always want to hire a non-citizen. The second is that work permits should entitle an EAD holder to all of the same rights as a regular U.S. citizen. But going through some cases that have been posted surrounding work permit controversies, we can see that this isn’t always the case.
One thing to be aware of when it comes to work permits is that there is some confusion amongst employers who might be thinking they are hiring an undocumented illegal immigrant. This is because the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 established protocols for employers to verify employment eligibility and ensure they weren’t hiring undocumented individuals. Some employers who see that an applicant was never admitted legally into the U.S. might not take their chances on the applicant even though they have received a work permit legally and are fit for the job.
In 2020, Bloomberg Law reported that a DACA recipient who held a work permit was effectively denied an internship at Proctor and Gamble because of his status as someone who hadn’t been properly admitted into the country. Other instances of applicants being denied have been reported amongst top companies in the banking and IT sector.
Reading Job Descriptions
In part, some of the fault of these applicants not being able to work for their dream company, or a position they were highly qualified for, could be assigned to employees at the company who hadn’t received the proper training yet on how to deal with job applicants holding work permits. Thus it is important for work permit job applicants in the U.S. to be very careful when reading job descriptions and researching a company they want to apply to. Here are some questions to reflect on if you’re an EAD holder in this situation:
- Does the company have a history or hiring work permit holders who are non-citizens?
- Does the job application make an explicit comment that the employer will only be hiring U.S. citizens?
- Does the company seem like it has a well trained HR department who will clearly be able to determine that (you) the applicant, are already legally authorized to work in the U.S.?
- Are their international staff members on their roster?
- Does the application encourage people of diverse backgrounds to apply for the job or internship?
All of these questions matter when it comes to work permit holders applying for a job in the U.S. Oftentimes some smaller companies wont consider that there will be EAD holders applying to the job, and because they are unprepared to handle the application, they send out a rejection letter. It is a good idea to establish a relationship with the employer, even if it means sending them a brief email to let them you are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
To sum up, the problem that is less talked about with work permit holders is that even though the work permit is designed to give non-citizens perfect legal rights to work anywhere in the U.S., companies become exclusive or develop a business mindset around who they want to hire. If the applicants work permit is going to expire in 6 months, the HR department might decide to go with someone who is a citizen and doesn’t have to renew their work permit (less risk involved).
To this end, applicants might want to consider applying for jobs immediately upon receiving their EAD. It helps employers know that two years is plenty of time to train someone without worrying too much about what goes beyond the two year mark. On the flipside, applicants might want to apply for roles in which a certain program is starting that has a defined two year (or close to it) timeline where they could be an asset for the time being.