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EAD vs. H-1B: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 4, 2024
EAD (Employment Authorization Document) allows immigrants to work in the U.S., while H-1B is a visa for specialized occupations.

Key Differences

The difference between an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and an H-1B visa centers on the purpose and eligibility criteria for each. The EAD, or Employment Authorization Document, is a broad work permit allowing immigrants, including asylum seekers, refugees, and students, to work legally in the United States. It does not tie the holder to a specific employer, offering flexibility in employment choices. In contrast, the H-1B visa is specifically designed for foreign professionals in specialized occupations to work in the U.S., requiring a higher education degree or its equivalent. It binds the visa holder to the sponsoring employer, and the job must qualify as a specialty occupation.
Both the EAD and the H-1B visa are critical components of U.S. immigration policy, addressing different needs within the immigrant workforce. The EAD is applicable to a wider range of immigration statuses and does not require sponsorship by an employer, making it accessible to a diverse group of individuals. On the other hand, the H-1B visa targets skilled workers in fields such as IT, finance, engineering, and medicine, requiring a petition filed by a U.S. employer on behalf of the foreign worker.
In terms of application process and duration, obtaining an EAD generally involves less complexity and can be quicker compared to the H-1B visa process, which includes a cap and often a lottery system due to high demand. The EAD is usually valid for one year and can be renewed under certain conditions, while H-1B visas are granted for up to three years with the possibility of extension.
The flexibility of the EAD is a significant advantage for holders, allowing them to change jobs without affecting their immigration status. This contrasts with the H-1B visa, where changing jobs can require a new visa petition by the prospective employer, introducing potential complications and delays.
Both the EAD and H-1B visa play essential roles in enabling foreign nationals to contribute to the U.S. economy, yet they cater to distinct groups within the immigrant workforce with specific needs and qualifications. Understanding the differences between these permits is crucial for immigrants seeking to navigate the U.S. employment landscape effectively.

Comparison Chart


Grants permission to work for any employer in the U.S.
Allows work in specialty occupations for a specific employer.


Broad, including students, refugees, and asylees.
Professionals with at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent in a specific field.


Typically valid for 1 year, renewable.
Initial period of 3 years, extendable to 6 years.

Employer Dependency

No specific employer required.
Tied to a sponsoring employer.

Application Complexity

Generally simpler, with no annual cap.
Complex, subject to cap and often requires lottery participation.

EAD and H-1B Definitions


EAD is issued by USCIS to individuals awaiting the completion of their immigration process.
He received his EAD while his green card application was still being processed.


H-1B visa status can lead to a green card, offering a path to permanent residency.
Working under an H-1B visa, she began the process of applying for a green card to make the U.S. her permanent home.


EAD needs to be renewed periodically, depending on the holder's status.
She marked her calendar to renew her EAD six months before it expired to avoid any work interruption.


H-1B visa holders must possess at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent in their specific field.
Her degree in biotechnology was a key factor in her qualification for the H-1B visa.


EAD (Employment Authorization Document) is a legal permit allowing foreign nationals to work in the U.S.
After obtaining her EAD, she was thrilled to start her new job at the design firm.


H-1B is subject to an annual cap, with a lottery system used when applications exceed available visas.
Despite the odds, his application was selected in the H-1B visa lottery, allowing him to work in the U.S.


EAD is not tied to a specific employer, offering flexibility in employment.
With his EAD, he was able to work for multiple startups simultaneously.


H-1B visas have a standard initial validity of three years, extendable to six years.
After three years in the U.S., he applied for an extension of his H-1B visa.


EAD can be granted to students, asylum seekers, and spouses of certain visa holders.
As a spouse of an L-1 visa holder, she applied for an EAD to seek employment in the U.S.


H-1B is a non-immigrant visa allowing U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.
He moved to the U.S. after receiving an H-1B visa offer from a software company.


Can EAD holders work for multiple employers?

Yes, EAD holders can work for multiple employers or change jobs freely.

Is the H-1B visa renewable?

Yes, the H-1B visa can be renewed for a total stay of up to 6 years.

Who needs an H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa is for foreign workers in specialized occupations requiring a higher education degree.

What happens if an EAD expires?

Individuals must stop working unless they apply for and receive a renewal before expiration.

What is an EAD?

An EAD is a document that grants immigrants permission to work in the U.S. for any employer.

Can H-1B visas lead to permanent residency?

Yes, H-1B visa holders can apply for a green card as a path to permanent residency.

How do you apply for an EAD?

Application for an EAD is made through Form I-765 with the USCIS.

Can EAD holders start their own business?

Yes, EAD holders can start their own business or become self-employed.

Can family members of H-1B visa holders work in the U.S.?

H-4 dependents can apply for an EAD under specific conditions.

Is an EAD required for H-1B holders?

No, H-1B visa holders do not need an EAD to work for their sponsoring employer.

What is the cap for H-1B visas?

The annual cap for H-1B visas is 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for those with a U.S. master's degree or higher.

What's the processing time for an EAD application?

Processing times vary, but it generally takes a few months to receive an EAD.

Can EAD holders apply for health insurance?

Yes, EAD holders are eligible to apply for health insurance in the U.S.

Do H-1B holders need to stay with the same employer?

H-1B visa holders are tied to their sponsoring employer but can change jobs with a new H-1B petition.

Are there any travel restrictions for H-1B visa holders?

H-1B visa holders can travel, but they must have valid visas to re-enter the U.S.

What are the fees for H-1B visa applications?

Fees include filing, premium processing (if opted), and fraud prevention charges, totaling several thousand dollars.

Is it easier to obtain an EAD or an H-1B visa?

Obtaining an EAD is generally considered easier due to fewer requirements and no cap.

Can EAD be expedited?

In certain circumstances, expedited processing of an EAD application is possible.

Does an H-1B visa guarantee entry into the U.S.?

An H-1B visa does not guarantee entry; customs officials have the final say upon arrival.

How often can you renew an EAD?

Renewal depends on the immigrant's status but can often be done as needed.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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