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What Is Considered Unauthorized Employment?

You are violating U.S. law if you are not authorized to work in the United States and take a job anyway. To avoid unlawful employment, ensure you are authorized to work in the United States before taking any job. Employers can also avoid this issue by verifying that their employees are authorized to work in the United States.

When unsure whether your employment situation is authorized, it’s important to speak with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you understand your options and rights. If you need help with your employment and immigration status, call us at 0330 311 6351 for immediate assistance. Our team of experienced immigration lawyers and consultants is here to help you in person, via the phone, or online.


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What Constitutes Unauthorized Employment?

The United States’ general work permit is known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). It is a document that verifies your right to work in the United States for a specific amount of time. If you are not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you must acquire an EAD to work in the country.

Broadly speaking, unauthorized employment is any type of work performed without the proper authorization from the relevant authorities. This can include working without a valid visa or work permit, working in a position that doesn’t match your visa classification, or violating the terms of your visa.

Unlawful employment is a serious violation of U.S. immigration law and can lead to several negative consequences, including deportation. If you’re working without authorization, you may also be subject to a fine or imprisonment.

Following are some specific examples of unauthorized employment:

Being Employed Without Authorization

Working without a valid visa or work permit is the most clear-cut example of unauthorized employment. For instance, if you’re in the United States on a tourist visa, you’re not permitted to work. Your employer and you can be penalized for this type of unlawful employment.

Self-employment without proper documents and legal approval is also not allowed. So, if you’re in the United States on a student visa, for example, and you start your own business, that would be considered unauthorized employment.

Violating the Terms of Your Visa

Even if you have a valid visa and work permit, you may still be engaging in unauthorized employment if you’re not following the terms of your visa. For example, let’s say you have a work visa that allows you to work for a specific employer in a specific occupation. If you leave that job and start working for another employer or in a different occupation, that would be considered unauthorized.

Similarly, working off-campus would also be considered unlawful employment if you have a student visa and are only allowed to work on-campus. There are many other examples of how you can violate the terms of your visa and get engaged in unauthorized employment.

Pure Volunteer Work is Allowed

If you donate your time and services without receiving any type of compensation, that is generally not considered unauthorized employment in the US. However, there are certain conditions to this rule. For instance, you should not be volunteering in a position for a company that paid workers usually do.

It is generally considered unfair to work for free in a position that usually requires payment, even if the goal is only to gain experience. This is because your unpaid employment may take money away from someone desperately needing it. Furthermore, playing an active role in a start-up for formation without proper permission or authority can be considered unauthorized.

Passive Investment is Allowed With Stipulations

Active involvement in a business, such as in day-to-day operations, is considered unauthorized employment for foreign nationals. However, passive investment, such as investing in the stock market or bonds, is allowed. Private company investment is also allowed if the foreign citizen is not actively involved in the business. Forex trading is also considered unauthorized employment.

Here are some common examples of Unauthorized Employment:

A student on an F-1 visa working on a project outside the campus without informing the school authority
A foreign national on an H-1B visa takes a second job from an employer other than the one who sponsored his or her H-1B application;
A religious worker on an R-1 visa initiates to work for a new organization before their transfer petition is approved;
A J-2 or H-4 keeps on working even after the expiry of their existing EAD;
A B-2 visa status visitor works at some relatives’ offices for a few days during their visit to the USA.

Get in touch with our expert immigration lawyers to receive assistance with your employment authorization.

Consequences of Unauthorized Employment

A foreign national who is found to be working without authorization may be subject to civil or criminal penalties. The employer will also face the consequences.


Deportation is a possible consequence for the foreign citizen if found guilty of unauthorized employment. The individual may also be permanently barred from returning to the United States.

Ineligibility to Extend or Change Status

If a foreign national is found to be working without authorization, they may become ineligible to extend or change their status. As per immigration law, any foreign citizen working without authorization is considered violating their status.

Consider a situation where you are still within the period allowed on your I-94 and are not an M, J, or F visa holder. In that scenario, any breaches of US law will make you ineligible to extend your current visa or change your status to another nonimmigrant visa while in the United States. You must depart the country by the expiration of your authorized stay.

Inadmissibility Grounds for Future Entry into the United States

If an individual is deported for unauthorized employment, they will be considered inadmissible to the United States. This means that they will not be allowed to return to the United States in the future.

Ineligibility for Status Adjustment 

If foreign nationals work without authorization, they will not be able to adjust their status. They must leave the United States and apply for a new visa from their home country.

You are no longer eligible for a green card if you have engaged in unauthorized employment prior to applying for it. You may be eligible for waivers of unauthorized employment depending on your adjustment of status.

How to Obtain Work Authorization

To work in the United States, you must obtain USCIS-authorized employment. There is a standard procedure to follow, which includes the filing of an I-765 form.

Eligibility criteria for EAD

Foreign nationals can file the EAD application under the following situations:

  • Applicant’s nonimmigrant status
  • Exchange visitors and students
  • Applicants of asylum and asylee
  • Foreign citizens waiting for a green card application decisions
  • Spouses and fiancés of US citizens

Documents for obtaining an EAD

The foreign national will need to submit the following documents while filing an I-765 form:

  • A copy of I-94 (front and back of Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record)
  • Travel documents, including your passport
  • A copy of your last EAD (if applicable)
  • G-28 form, if an attorney is accredited to represent you (legal authorization)
  • A copy of any ID issued by the government
  • I-797 form with the final note of eligibility resettlement (for refugee applicants)

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How can IAS Help?

Working without proper authorization in the United States can have severe consequences, including but not limited to deportation and being permanently barred from returning to the United States.

The immigration lawyers at IAS are experienced in handling cases involving unauthorized employment. We can help you determine whether you are eligible for a waiver and, if so, guide you through applying for one.

The IAS can also help you with employment authorization and other immigration-related issues if you are a US employer. Our team of experienced professionals is here to guide you through every step of the process. Call on 0333 305 9375 to discuss how we can help.

We offer immigration advice sessions as face to face appointments at all of our UK offices, or via the phone.

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Frequently Asked Questions

You must obtain proper work authorization documents to work in the United States. If you are on a student visa, specific work options on and off campus may be available. But that has to be after ensuring proper documentation from a suitable authority. Working without proper authorization can have severe consequences, including but not limited to deportation and being permanently barred from returning to the United States.

Yes, your spouse can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if they meet the eligibility criteria. The majority of U.S. visa classifications have visas available for the principal beneficiary’s close family members.

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for a waiver of unauthorized employment. Contact an immigration law firm to discuss your options.

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