Work Visas

Documentation for Foreign Workers Authorized to Work in the United States

The number of documents that can be used by foreign workers to show they are authorized to work in the U.S. can be dizzying. But believe it or not, your company has a lot riding on your ability to recognize legitimate foreign worker documentation when you see it. Here's our list of documents that should be on your radar screen.

The hiring process for foreign workers is a minefield of confusion and frustration for small business owners.

Contributing to the chaos is the fact that foreign job applicants can present any number of documents to verify that they're qualified for employment in the US.

The ability to recognize legitimate documents when they are presented to you may seem like a trivial thing.

It's not. In fact, if you fail to recognize and accept proper documentation it can have negative ramifications for your business. In some cases, it can open your business up to allegations of employment discrimination, particularly if you refuse to hire a foreign applicant just because you didn't recognize his paperwork.

It would be nice if every job applicant could present the same work status verification document. Since they don't, you're going to have to become familiar with the documents that apply to each category of workers.

  • Permanent residents. US citizens and permanent residents have a lot of options when it comes to the documents they can present to their employers. US passports, birth certificates, permanent resident card (i.e. green cards), and unrestricted Social Security cards all qualify as acceptable documents.
  • Unrestricted foreign workers. Anyone who is not a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident is required to apply for an EAD (employment authorization document). Also known as a temporary work permit, the USCIS issues this document to temporary foreign workers as verification that they are eligible for employment by US employers.
  • Restricted foreign workers. Some foreign workers are eligible for employment, but with restrictions. These workers typically produce a Form I–94 to prove their employment eligibility. This document details the employer specific visa classifications and should detail an unexpired period of admission into the US.
  • Undocumented workers. If they lack any of the above forms of documentation, foreign applicants are typically labeled as undocumented workers. It is illegal to employ undocumented workers and could result in fines or other consequences for you and your business.

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