Human Rights First Condemns Rule Keeping Asylum-Seekers from Work Authorization

WASHINGTON – Human Rights First condemns the Trump administration’s new rule, slated to be issued on June 26, banning and delaying legal work authorizations for most asylum seekers while they wait for the government to adjudicate their applications for U.S. refugee protection.

“This rule endangers the health, safety and lives of asylum seekers and their families,” said Eleanor Acer, Human Rights First’s senior director for refugee protection. “The rule will prevent many refugees from feeding, supporting, and housing themselves and their families. Asylum seekers and their families already struggle to survive under existing work authorization wait times. But this rule will make survival impossible for many.

“The Trump administration has turned the U.S. asylum system into a life-threatening ordeal that punishes refugees for seeking this country’s protection and makes it impossible for them to survive while awaiting resolution of their cases. The Trump administration’s arguments in support of this rule are entirely disingenuous. The bottom line is that this rule is another change aimed at punishing refugees who apply for asylum in this country and discouraging others from seeking U.S. protection.”

The rule would, among other harmful actions:

  • Substantially delay the issuance of work permits for asylum seekers by increasing the wait time required to apply from 150 to 365 days, undermining their ability to feed, house and support their families;
  • Bar asylum seekers who crossed the border, other than at a port of entry, from receiving a work permit in most cases – a move that would leave asylum seekers without legal authorization for many years and would penalize asylum seekers for improper entry or presence in violation of U.S. legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol;
  • Ban from work authorization an asylum seeker who filed for asylum after the current, highly flawed, one-year asylum filing deadline – a change that would punish asylum seekers with valid claims to U.S. refugee protection who will ultimately be found to meet an exception to the one-year deadline.
  • Prohibit asylum seekers from receiving work authorization when their cases are being reviewed by U.S. federal courts even when the asylum seeker was ruled eligible for asylum but the government has decided to appeal the decision; and
  • Bar asylum seekers from work authorization when, for example, they move to a new address that would transfer the application to a different asylum office or immigration court.

The regulation indicates it will go into effect 60 days after its publication.

Through our pro bono refugee representation program, Human Rights First and our volunteer lawyers see first-hand how difficult it already is for asylum seekers to survive in the early stages of the asylum application process, even with the current six-month wait for work authorization.

As Human Rights First detailed in a fact sheet issued last year, when the Trump administration proposed doubling the already lengthy wait period for a work permit to one year, refugees and their families already suffer severely while waiting for work authorization. Human Rights First also filed formal comments opposing the proposed rule and detailing the organization’s concerns about many of the provisions ultimately included in this new rule.


Published on June 22, 2020


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