New Rules Will Delay and Prohibit Asylum Seekers from Joining the Workforce

The administration has finalized two new regulations to dramatically diminish asylum seekers’ ability to work during the years it takes for their cases to run through a backlogged immigration system.

On June 26, 2020, the administration released  a final rule requiring asylum seekers to wait a full year, rather than the current 150 days, after filing their asylum applications before they can apply for a work permit.   In addition, asylum seekers who cross or try to cross the border without authorization after the new rule’s effective date of August 25, 2020, will be completely ineligible to ever get a work permit  (with extremely limited exceptions), despite the fact that receiving a decision from the immigration courts can routinely take years.  (Cases in the Immigration Court of Boston, which processes Maine’s asylum applicants’ claims, currently average more than three years (1118 days) to be decided.)

And on June 22, 2020, the administration released a final rule dissolving a regulation in place since 1995 that requires  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process asylum seekers’ first work permit applications within 30 days of receipt.   This rule change means that those asylum seekers who, come August, must wait a full year after filing for asylum before they can request their initial work permits, will then have to wait months more to actually receive them.  This change will will apply to applications for work authorization filed on or after August 21, 2020.

Asylum seekers are not eligible for any basic federal safety net benefits such as food assistance (SNAP).  These changes appear aimed at effectively eliminating the legal right to seek asylum in the U.S., by forcing asylum seekers to abandon their claims for asylum simply because it will be too hard for them to survive without the ability to work legally to support themselves.

That motive is consistent with the recent proposed rule that would make virtually all asylum seekers categorically ineligible for asylum in the U.S., despite the persecution they fear or have experienced prior to arriving here, and with the administration’s actions at the southern border raising legal and physical barriers to those arriving to seek safety in the U.S.

The administration acknowledges that the rule change will  cost asylum seekers billions of dollars annually in lost earnings, as well as costing the federal government hundreds of millions in lost payroll tax revenues, and causing incalculable costs in lost productivity and profits to the businesses unable to employ them because they can’t join the legal labor pool due to these changes.

MeBIC submitted one of several thousand comments filed to oppose these rule changes when they were proposed.   However, coming on the heels of the recent Presidential Proclamations suspending entry of new immigrants and temporary foreign workers to the U.S. on the rational of reducing competition with U.S. citizens for jobs, it is unsurprising that the administration chose to proceed with these rule changes,  despite the harm it will cause not only to individual asylum seekers and to our standing in the world as a beacon of human rights, but also to the U.S. economy.

The administration continues its end run around Congress, through rule-making, executive orders, and presidential proclamations, to reshape the U.S. immigration system to conform to its vision of halting virtually all immigration to the U.S., except by the most elite of immigrants, .