In latest crackdown, asylum seekers to face new hurdles to get US work permits

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A mother comforts her crying child while joining more than 200 asylum seekers in the parking lot of an immigration check-point in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, on August 1, 2019. - Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS

MIAMI — Over the past 20 years, asylum seekers in the United States have benefited broadly from a regulatory provision in immigration law that allowed them to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) within a 30-day deadline after their initial application, regardless of whether their asylum case was approved.

Having a coveted EAD, colloquially known as work permits, makes it easier for these immigrants to earn a living legally and obtain a Social Security number, among other perks.

But, the speed with which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) awards work permits can sometimes be an incentive for people who may be attempting to defraud the legal immigration system, says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Last Friday, DHS published a final rule in the Federal Register modifying the regulation governing the time frames by which USCIS adjudicates employment authorization.

The new rule, effective Aug. 21, removes the current 30-day timeline from the date an asylum seeker files Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to grant or deny this benefit.

DHS also removed the provision requiring that applicants submit their renewal requests to USCIS 90 days before the expiration of their employment authorization, according to the rule.

The proposal to eliminate the 30-day processing time frame for USCIS to adjudicate initial EAD applications was announced on September.

At the time, Brian J. Hoffman, a staff attorney for Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services, told el Nuevo Herald that “DHS’s proposal to give itself more time to adjudicate work permit applications for desperate asylum-seekers is but another example of how a government with nearly unlimited resources is making things easier on itself while at the same time making the asylum process almost impossibly burdensome for the most vulnerable members of society.”

“This rule change would allow DHS to take much longer to decide whether someone seeking asylum should be issued a work permit, requiring asylum-seekers to essentially survive on others’ charity while our government processes paperwork,” added Hoffman, who works in the Diocese of Cleveland.

In a news release announcing the regulatory change on Friday, USCIS said that removing the internal processing time provides the agency “sufficient time to receive, screen and process applications and to address national security and fraud concerns, maintain technological advances in identity verification and further deter those who may attempt to defraud the legal immigration system.”

Furthermore, on Friday, the Trump administration is poised to publish a final rule in the Federal Register that changes some of the provisions on the eligibility and waiting time for work permits based on a pending asylum application.

According to USCIS, the new measures steam from the Presidential Memorandum on Additional Measures to Enhance Border Security and Restore Integrity to Our Immigration System, and aim to deter immigrants “from filing frivolous, fraudulent, or otherwise non-meritorious claims for asylum to obtain an employment authorization document.”

This new rule is one of several major USCIS changes likely to impact millions of immigrants in the U.S. this year.

The 328-page regulation, scheduled to take effect Aug. 25, makes it more difficult for asylum seekers to apply for and obtain U.S. employment authorization because of these provisions:

—It extends the waiting period before an asylum seeker can apply for employment authorization from 150 days to 365 calendar days.

—It limits the employment authorization validity period to a maximum of two years.

—It denies work permits to asylum applicants who did not cross the U.S. border at an authorized port of entry.

—It automatically terminates employment authorization on the date of asylum application denial, rather than referring the case to the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.

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

According to USCIS, having an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is one way immigrants can prove to prospective employers that they are allowed to work legally for a time period.

Some of the eligibility categories are:


—Paroled as a Refugee



—Granted Withholding of Deportation or Removal

—Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

—Student Seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT)

—Student Offered Off-Campus Employment

—Several employment-based non-immigrant categories

—Spouse of an H-1B non-immigrant and other non-immigrant work visa holders

To request an EAD, foreign nationals must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. Applicants have to complete all sections on the form, including reasons for applying and personal information.

Send with the application the correct filing fee: $410 for the EAD, in addition to $85 for biometric services, for a total of $495. Include supporting documentation for initial evidence (it varies depending on the eligibility category). All documents have to be translated into English and certified.


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