New Work Authorization Rule for Asylum Seekers Could Have Devastating Consequences
Washington, D.C.—In response to a proposed new regulation that would eliminate requirements that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decide on first-time applications for employment authorization by asylum seekers within 30 days, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following statement:
This rule would leave asylum seekers struggling to survive for even longer as they await decisions on their claims to refugee protection. This is yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to punish people seeking refuge in this country. It will leave refugees without the ability to feed and house their families. The United States should be protecting refugees, not thwarting their ability to survive.
The proposed rule would eliminate the regulatory requirement that USCIS adjudicate first-time applications for employment authorization by asylum applicants within 30 days of their filing. This would result in USCIS delaying adjudication of these applications for months, for asylum applicants who have already been waiting with neither public support nor right to work for over five months—or longer if the administration also prolongs the wait time before applicants can even apply. U.S. immigration law and regulations currently provide asylum seekers with work authorization documents, which allow them to accept employment after their asylum applications have been pending for at least 180 days.
Human Rights First notes in its fact sheet, Callous and Calculated: Longer Work Authorization Bar Endangers Lives of Asylum Seekers and Their Families, that the inability to work for at least six months after requesting asylum already leaves many asylum seekers, who are often traumatized and vulnerable, in precarious situations—homeless, unable to feed themselves and their children, and struggling to get health care. Increasing that wait period could have devastating consequences.
“Many asylum seekers suffer while awaiting work authorization; some become homeless, live in overcrowded or unsafe conditions, and lack basic needs like food and clothing. Without work authorization, asylum seekers cannot purchase health insurance or obtain a social security number, and often cannot apply for a state-issued identification card or driver’s license, which limits access to transportation, banking, and private support services. Lack of income also hinders opportunities to find and retain competent legal counsel.” added Acer.
Human Rights First—through its offices in California, New York, Texas and Washington, D.C.—represents many refugees who face great difficulties as they await issuance of work authorization so that they can support themselves and their families. Some have been left homeless or unable to support their families.