How Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Work Permit in the US?

How Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Work Permit in the US?
How Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Work Permit in the US?


Many undocumented immigrants in the US face difficult situations. They wish to work and contribute but encounter legal and practical barriers.

Working illegally risks consequences for employees and employers alike. However, some options exist for obtaining legal work authorization.

This article explores potential paths and complicating factors.

What is a work permit, and who needs one?

A work permit shows an immigrant is legally allowed to work in the US.

Depending on the individual’s status, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services issues what is also known as an Employment Authorization Document, which is valid for one to two years.

Getting this card requires submitting an application and paying fees.

Some immigrants do not need work permits.

These include green card holders, citizens, and some visa holders.

They have built-in work eligibility. Others, though, including asylum seekers, refugees, DACA beneficiaries, TPS holders, and some spouses, must apply for permits to work legally in the US.


How Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Work Permit?

Here are some options for undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits, though none offer permanent solutions:

  • Applying for asylum requires a pending application and a credible, documented claim of persecution in one’s home country.
  • Applying for DACA, which offers temporary protections for those who arrived as children, if they meet strict criteria
  • Applying for TPS is from a designated country experiencing strife, which provides temporary protections
  • In limited cases, applying to adjust status based on an approved petition or by qualifying for narrow exceptions, such as being an immediate relative of a citizen

However, these paths have uncertainties and limitations. Most undocumented immigrants cannot directly apply for permits without first getting an approved petition or status.

What are the risks and challenges of working illegally in the US?

Working illegally risks consequences for both the employee and the employer.

  • Fines and penalties from immigration and labor agencies, including civil or criminal charges
  • Possible deportation or removal, separating families
  • Exploitation and abuse, like low pay, unsafe conditions, discrimination, and lack of access to services
  • Lack of rights and benefits afforded legal workers, such as minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, health insurance, and retirement plans

The situation is risky and challenging and it can lead to further marginalization.


Undocumented immigrants encounter hazards working illegally, though some paths to permits exist.

Applying for protections like asylum, DACA, or TPS allows work authorization but demands extensive paperwork and unsure outcomes.

Adjusting status also remains limited and difficult without the right visa petitions or family ties. Still, speaking with an attorney could uncover possibilities amid narrow options.

It is worth considering the long-term risks versus the unknown hazards of an unlicensed livelihood. As it is, there is no ideal solution to the complex problem.

But keeping an open and informed perspective may reveal slivers of light ahead.

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