Maine has long welcomed asylum seekers, and they are critical members of our labor force as Maine’s native born working age population shrinks. Work permission is essential for asylum seekers’ survival, since the immigration process can take years. Asylum seekers in Maine routinely wait four years for their asylum application interviews, and in many cases obtaining a final decision can take several years more.
Federal law requires asylum seekers to wait 150 days after filing their asylum applications before they are allowed to request their work permits. By law, the government must then process their work permit applications within 30 days, so that 180 days after requesting asylum, they will have their work authorization in hand.
In practice, that simply never happens. Asylum seekers routinely wait two, three and four months after filing their work permit applications before they finally receive their work permits. This is not only demoralizing and economically debilitating for them, but is also a complete waste of human capital when Maine needs every worker it can get.
On July 26, 2018, in Rosario vs. USCIS, a nationwide class action lawsuit, a federal court ordered the government to comply with the law and adjudicate all asylum seekers’ work permit applications within 30 days.
This will allow Maine’s asylum seekers to get to work months sooner than they have been, benefiting them and all of Maine.