Answer for "Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?" in academic/postdoc position



The following sentence is asked in early stage of all academic positions and postdoc jobs advertised in US-based universities or institutes:

Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?

I Googled this question and found many people have confusion over this question. Some of the answers to this question is here and here.

However, this question is ambiguous and can be interpreted in at least two different ways:

  1. The applicant is considered eligible if he/she is in the US at the time of application submission as a citizen, green card holder or a work/study visa holder and can immediately start to work.
  2. The applicant is considered eligible if he/she is not in US nor is citizen and work Visa holder, but is can apply for work permit, come to US, and then work in US.

Which one is correct interpretation?

I think the confusion comes out of the term eligibility because according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, eligibility means able to be chosen for something, able to do or receive something. In our case it means able to be chosen for a job in US market, able to do or receive work offer in US.

So, I, like many other foreigners outside US, am eligible to apply for visa and work in US because I am adult older than 18 without any conviction record or illegal entry to US or illegal stay in US. So there is nothing to stop me from getting visa and hence I am eligible to apply for a job, get job offer if qualified from a US employer and then apply for the VISA to enter US.

The confusion is further intensified when some employers use the following sentence instead of the above one

Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?

Why some employers use "Authorized"? Is this a different question?

To me, the second question is much more clearer than the first one, since it asks about authority or right of working in US.

So I think in this way:

while I (without citizenship, green card, or any work visa) am ELIGIBLE to apply from my home country for a work visa, I am NOT AUTHORIZED at the time of application to work in US because I am not in US and have currently no official work permit from the government. Is this right?

Question 1: So how should I as an alien without citizenship, green card, student visa, work visa, visitor visa, or any other document that enables me to work in US should answer this question?

Question 2: How does saying "NO" to this question impacts on chance of getting interview by universities for academic or postdoc positions?


Posted 2014-06-24T16:43:01.167

Reputation: 313

Semantics. Eligible and authorized mean exactly the same thing in this context. – littleadv – 2014-06-24T21:57:00.733



People want to know if you are currently authorized (green card, H1-B, etc.), not if you are eligible to apply. Just because you are eligible, that does not mean that you will get a work permit/visa that allows you to work in the US. The work authorization process in the US is complicated and may require the employer to which you are applying to sponsor your application (H1-B). An answer of "No" to this question probably doesn't disqualify you from interviewing, and it tells the interviewer how they will have to work with you and the US government in order to secure your employment should they choose to proceed.

Edited to add after the revision: You should tell your potential advisor/employer that you will need visa sponsorship. Most US academic employers are well aware of the necessary steps and have an entire department dedicated to interfacing with international students and employees and the US government. My university calls this the International Office.

Bill Barth

Posted 2014-06-24T16:43:01.167

Reputation: 526

4Care to share, Downvoter? – None – 2014-06-24T16:58:17.160

4I didn't downvote, but here's my reading. If someone asks if I am eligible, I assume they want to make sure that there's no particular reason that I would be rejected if I applied for a work permit/visa. They want to rule me out if I'm a convicted felon, etc. But if they ask if I am authorised, I assume they are asking if I currently have a work permit/visa. – None – 2014-06-24T17:08:01.617


U.S. government forms such as seem to use work eligibility and work authorization as synonyms, so I believe Bill Barth is right. Eligible to work = authorized to work, not able to apply for authorization.

– None – 2014-06-24T17:19:43.930


Know this question was posted a while ago but someone else could stumble across it like I did. I'm a recruiter and I know for myself and most of my colleagues, if someone asks up front if you are eligible for employment what they are really asking is are you able to work without a visa transfer / sponsorship of any kind. Since almost everyone knows you can't ask, "So you got a green card or what?" (a real example someone used once, which is crazy) you ask in the way that you have been told is the safest way to ask.

My peers who work at places that process new visas and transfer existing ones pretty much never ask up front because they don't care what the answer is as they can work with you whatever your eligibility.

Kendra Andrews

Posted 2014-06-24T16:43:01.167

Reputation: 91

@vartec, I believe the phrase "are you authorized to work in US" is specifically engineered to be ambiguous.

– Pacerier – 2015-12-30T17:50:35.847

1It's illegal in the US to discriminate based on country of origin, and asking about green card status could be seen as trying to discriminate against non-US citizens. – Bill Barth – 2016-02-17T00:20:50.857

2Even for aliens, there are many different ways of being authorized to work in the USA. I don't think an employer is allowed to require a green card rather than one of the other documents that establish employment authorization. – Patricia Shanahan – 2016-02-17T05:49:46.253

@PatriciaShanahan indeed they are not. Employers must establish that a prospective employee is authorized to work, but they can't discriminate based on immigration status. The only exception is for government-related jobs that are limited to US citizens, usually because of security clearance requirements. – phoog – 2016-09-08T16:32:41.397

1@phoog: Actually, only US citizens, nationals, permanent residents, temporary residents, refugees, and asylees are protected against citizenship status discrimination. Employers can discriminate against others, even if work authorized. – user102008 – 2016-10-13T02:25:37.947

@user102008 So an employer would be allowed to ask "do you belong to any of these groups, but you don't have to say which one"? And they could refuse to hire someone in, e.g., derivative G-4 status with an EAD simply because they're not in one of those groups? – phoog – 2018-06-04T16:45:20.507

@phoog: Probably – user102008 – 2018-06-04T17:15:21.857

2«you can't ask, "So you got a green card or what?"» – true, but you can as "are you authorized to work in US", which is unambiguous. – vartec – 2015-05-02T02:19:41.853

Why can't you ask somebody if they have a green card? – Douglas Held – 2015-08-13T03:38:37.350


Here in Thailand employers tend to ask if you are eligible to work in Thailand without a work permit.

The reason the question matters to the employer (at least here in Thailand) is that getting a work permit is not particularly straightforward, and involves a lot of work (piles of paperwork) on the part of the company. So what they are usually looking for is someone who can fulfil a role without having to do all that paperwork.

(And the only people actually eligible to work in Thailand without a work permit are people who hold Thai citizenship. So a lot of the time they just say in a job ad that they are looking for Thai citizens only. But this is a country where they can say they want to employ a male between the ages of 21-25, or they can sack a flight attendant who becomes pregnant, so they don't have any qualms about being direct in their requirements.)

Scott Earle

Posted 2014-06-24T16:43:01.167

Reputation: 2 709