Changes in Asylum Procedures Harmful to Many in Maine’s Workforce

Immigration authorities recently announced a significant change in procedure that will affect all asylum seekers applying for safe haven before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  All asylum applicants undergo a personal interview with USCIS to assess their eligibiity for asylum.   Because of growing backlogs, USCIS  will begin scheduling interviews on a “Last in, first out” (LIFO) basis to try to keep the backlog from growing.

Under the new procedure, USCIS will only schedule interviews with applicants whose cases were filed before early January 2018 if USCIS is able to keep up, via LIFO,  with newly filed asylum applications.   USCIS will chip away at the backlog, if possible, by working from more to less recently filed cases.

Maine asylum applicants have routinely waited as long as four years to be interviewed on their applications.  Now, individuals who have already waited nearly four years will likely be waiting many years longer for their interviews.

Conversely, under LIFO, new asylum applicants may be interviewed within 2 to 3 months of filing.  Many asylum seekers will be unable to find lawyers to help them properly prepare their applications and get ready for their interviews in this time frame, which may result in asylum seekers losing their cases.   The asylum application process is extremely complex, and asylum applicants without lawyers are far more likely than those who have competent legal representation to have their applications denied.

How does this affect Maine employees?

Asylum cases often present life or death situations.  Waiting for a decision on one’s asylum application means living a life in limbo, temporarily safe, but unsure if the U.S. will eventually allow a new, permanent future in the U.S., or will force the asylum seeker’s return to persecution abroad.  Waiting for years for this decision is extremely stressful.

Many Maine workers, especially those who have arrived in recent years from countries such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Angola, are asylum seekers authorized to work while their cases are in process with USCIS.   In addition to their concerns about their own futures in the U.S.,   many are separated from their spouses and children who can only join them here once the asylum seekers have been granted asylum.   For asylum applicants already stuck in the backlog, the LIFO system will prolong by years their strain and worry about their futures and their family separations, as they wait for interviews, and decisions in their cases.

How can Maine employers help?

Employers who offer an EAP as an employee benefit can make sure that their employees are aware of that benefit, and other support that may be available.