Human Rights First Denounces New Fees for Asylum in the United States
WASHINGTON — While the Trump administration continues to block many refugees from asylum in this country, Human Rights First condemns the new final rule requiring asylum seekers to pay fees for asylum and initial work authorization – already drastically limited by other Trump administration rules and policies.
Under the rules, USCIS will for the first time in its history charge asylum seekers a $50 fee to file for asylum. This fee, which also applies to those in immigration detention, is not waivable under the rule. USCIS will also charge asylum seekers a fee of $550 to apply for an initial work permit; first-time work permit applications for asylum seekers were previously free, in recognition of the fact that asylum seekers up to that point have not been allowed to work for many months. The new rules go into effect 60 days after the final rule is published in the federal registrar.
“Asylum seekers typically arrive in the United States with very limited resources that quickly dwindle. For some who are detained upon arrival, the total amount of money they have available to them by the time they are filing for asylum can be less than this application fee.” said Anwen Hughes, Human Rights First’s Deputy Legal Director. “The right to seek asylum in the United States should not be conditioned on the ability to pay a fee. For decades the United States–like the overwhelming majority of State parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol–has made applications for asylum free of charge. In now imposing a fee, USCIS upends the U.S. tradition of refugee protection.”
The imposition of these non-waivable fees is all the more outrageous given that the United States provides asylum seekers with no means of support other than work while their applications are pending, and given also that USCIS has promulgated separate regulations to prevent asylum seekers from applying for work permits until their asylum applications have been pending for a full year.
“Many of our pro bono asylum clients, once allowed to work, are essential workers whose work is more important than ever in the current public health crisis,” Hughes said. “Through this battery of rules, the Trump administration is depriving the nation of the contributions of refugees who desperately want to support themselves while contributing to their host country. The administration is also turning the process of applying for asylum in the United States into a form of trial by ordeal, rather than the fair adjudication that the Immigration and Nationality Act and principles of due process require.”
Human Rights First noted in its comment on this proposed change that only three countries party to the 1951 Refugee Convention charge a fee for asylum applications. The United States will now join Iran, Fiji, and Australia in charging refugees fees for asylum applications – and even Iran and Fiji provide certain fee exemptions, while Australia charges roughly half the fee imposed by this rule.
Human Rights First provides pro bono legal representation to refugees seeking asylum in the United States, in partnership with volunteer lawyers. The organization previously filed comments opposing this Trump administration rule, and has also condemned other Trump administration policies blocking refugees from asylum and the ability to work to support themselves and their families. Human Rights First also 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.