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What Work Am I Authorized to Do

Estimated Time to Completion: 

2 hours

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Unfortunately, the US work authorization system is very confusing and filled with legal jargon that most people cannot understand. So, in this lesson, we are going to try to demystify your work status and explain what jobs you can apply for.

The short version: If you are a refugee or asylee, you have permanent permission to live and work in the United States. (Source: US Justice Department).

The long version: As a refugee, you may work immediately upon arrival to the United States. When you are admitted to the United States you will receive a Form I-94 containing a refugee admission stamp.  

Additionally, a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, will be filed for you in order for you to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). While you are waiting for your EAD, you can present your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, to your employer as proof of your permission to work in the United States. (Source: US Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Wondering how to show your employer that you are authorized to work here? Here is an extremely helpful guide!

What kind of jobs are you eligible for?  (Source: US Justice Department)

You can work in almost any job you are qualified for. Your status as a refugee or asylee usually should NOT prevent you from getting a job. If you see that an employer only wants to hire U.S. citizens or does not want to hire asylees or refugees, this may be illegal discrimination.

What kind of paperwork should you expect after you are hired?  (Source: US Justice Department)

Payroll and tax forms

  • Your employer will need to report your wages to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and deduct taxes based on the information you provide.

  • What if you don’t have a Social Security Number yet?

  • If you get a job but do not have your Social Security number (SSN) yet, your employer should still allow you to work.

  • If your employer submits a W-2 before you get your SSN, your employer should write “Applied For” in the SSN field of a paper W-2 or enter all zeros (000-00-0000) in the SSN field of an electronic W-2.

Form I-9

  • All workers must provide their employers with documentation to prove their identity and their right to work in the U.S.

  • Employers fill out the Form I-9 with workers during this process. Refugees and asylees should choose the “alien authorized to work” box on the Form I-9.


  • E-Verify is an electronic system that compares information from the Form I-9 with government databases to confirm that a worker has permission to work in the United States. Not all employers use E-Verify.

  • If you get a job with an employer that uses E-Verify, your employer will need your SSN to create the E-Verify case. If you do not have your SSN yet, your employer should wait and create an E-Verify case after you receive your SSN.

  • Your employer should let you work while you wait for your SSN, even if it takes weeks or months.

If you believe you have been treated unfairly because of your refugee status or have questions about your ability to work here is the contact information of the relevant US federal agencies. All help is free:



  • If you have SSN → Try using the E-verify website to see if/when you are eligible to work in the US. 

  • Complete the paperwork and send a photo of your completed documentation? (but blur it out or just your name or something?)


Ever wondered if your degree from your home country will allow you to get a job in the US? By the end of the next lesson, you’ll be able to answer that question and you’ll walk away with information on how to get your degree accredited here in the US so it can be recognized by employers.

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