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'Terrible Consequences': New USCIS Rules for US Asylum Seekers Come into Effect

In late June 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced two regulatory changes aimed at making it impossible for asylum seekers to work legally in the United States while they await their asylum applications. By increasing the barriers these people overcome to obtain work permits, the new regulations threaten the health and safety of asylum seekers and their families. Proskauer.

Photo: Shutterstock

The first rule change, effective August 21, 2020, removes the requirement that USCIS must process work permit applications within 30 days of receipt. This change allows USCIS to review applications for an indefinite period of time, which will inevitably lead to delays. The government claims that the move will prevent immigrants from filing "unfounded, fraudulent or otherwise negligible [asylum] applications." But changing the rules is more likely to drive asylum seekers further into poverty, making it more difficult for them to meet their basic needs.

The second change, effective August 25, 2020, severely restricts the eligibility for a work permit while increasing the waiting time for permits. This will also have dire consequences for asylum seekers who are struggling to survive while their asylum applications remain pending, according to the authors of the article. The new measures instruct the government to:

  • significantly delay the issuance of work permits, more than doubling the waiting period from 150 to 365 days;
  • prohibit asylum seekers from obtaining a work permit if they attempt to enter the United States without screening on or after August 25, 2020, unless they fall under very limited exceptions;
  • deny a work permit to asylum seekers who apply for asylum after the one-year filing deadline, unless an exception is granted;
  • prohibit the issuance of work permits for applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes or who are “deemed” to have committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States;
  • reject work permit applications if the main asylum application had “unresolved delays due to the applicant's fault”, for example, a request to amend or supplement the asylum application, or if the application is transferred to another asylum office due to the applicant's address change;
  • automatically terminate an asylum seeker's work permit without renewal if the immigration judge refuses to hear the asylum case and the applicant does not appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) within 30 days, or if the applicant files an appeal but the BIA denies appeal; and
  • limit the validity of the work permit to a maximum of two years.

The consequences of these new directives will be devastating, according to the authors of the article. Currently, due to the inability to work legally for at least six months after applying for asylum, applicants are often left homeless, starving and denied access to medical care.

On the subject: USCIS Raises Prices for Immigration Services: Full Changelog

Since federal law does not provide support, such as income, housing, or food assistance, to asylum seekers, the dramatic increase in the waiting period for work permits will exacerbate the poverty conditions in which many asylum seekers find themselves. Without a work permit, these people cannot obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and often cannot apply for a driver's license or benefit from state assistance programs that offer safe housing and access to food.

Federal law allows states to provide state-funded benefits to asylum seekers, but only about half of the states have extended benefits for this population. Even when states provide some public benefits to asylum seekers, they are often only for children, the elderly, or those with special medical conditions.

Given these implications, volunteer lawyers representing asylum seekers who are eligible to apply for a new work permit or renew a valid work permit now should consider applying before August 21, when the first of these rules will take effect. ...

Miscellaneous In the U.S. shelter immigration to the USA political asylum in the united states Immigration in the USA

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