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Pingree Sponsors Bill to Speed Up Work Authorization for Asylum Seekers

With state facing workforce shortage, Maine’s 1st District Congresswoman reintroduces “commonsense” bill to shorten asylum seeker work authorization waiting period

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) reintroduced her Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, legislation that reduces the current 365-day waiting period for work authorization eligibility to 30 days, allowing an asylum seeker to apply for authorization as soon as the asylum claim is filed. The bill makes no changes to law or regulation relating to the asylum process. This could have an impact on new asylum seekers in Maine—allowing them to gain work, be self-sufficient through the process of establishing roots in their new community and contribute to our economy.

“Easing the transition for asylum seekers in the U.S. has been a long and complicated problem in our country, but the ongoing global pandemic has shone an even harsher light on the process and an urgent need to fix it,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “In the past few months, more than 700 migrants have sought refuge in Maine—uprooting their lives in hopes of safety and opportunity. We have welcomed them with open arms. At the same time, businesses have tried to recruit new arrivals in Maine, but because of outdated and misguided policies, these jobs are left unfilled. Why should skilled workers be denied the means to support themselves and be integrated into their new community because of an arbitrary waiting period? My Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act corrects this counterintuitive process with a commonsense solution, giving asylum seekers an opportunity to live a safe, fulfilling life while giving our economy the boost it so desperately needs.”

“Reducing the waiting period for asylum seekers to obtain authorization to work is essential and critical to our ongoing ability to provide support services to the hundreds of families who have and continue to choose Maine as their new home,” said Portland Mayor Kate Snyder. “The current wait time of a full year prolongs their ability to be self-sufficient and provide stability to their families, and leaves qualified people out of the workforce at a time when employers are desperate to find workers. Asylum seekers are here lawfully. We shouldn't hamstring them by not allowing them to work; and creating significant financial and resource challenges at the local level. I strongly urge Congress to pass Congresswoman Pingree’s Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act.” 

“My family and I are thankful to Representative Pingree for introducing this bill and to the members of Congress that supported it,” said Biraj Nepal, an asylum seeker and member of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP). “I am a software engineer and see each day the importance of asylum seekers receiving work permits as quickly as possible and for those work permits to be valid for as long as possible. Having a work permit allows me to provide for myself, my wife, our four-year-old daughter, and the child we have on the way and we are grateful that this bill will provide other asylum seekers the opportunity to receive work permits faster.”

Under a federal law passed in 1996, asylum seekers were required to wait at least half a year after filing an asylum petition before being able to obtain authorization to work. This law required that, once a person filed an asylum claim, he or she must wait 150 days before being able to apply for a work authorization, which could be granted no earlier than 180 days after the filing of the asylum claim. Often, because of technical issues and delays in processing work authorization requests, this time period would be much longer. 

In 2020, the Trump administration introduced a change that more than doubled the period of time asylum seekers must wait to apply for work authorization--from 150 days to 365 days. In response, Pingree led a group of 50 members of Congress in voicing their strong opposition to Trump’s proposed rule in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This rule was implemented in August 2020, but due to ongoing litigation, asylum seekers who are members of ASAP or CASA de Maryland are protected from the new restrictions in the Trump-era rule. However, those asylum seekers are still subject to the previous 180-day waiting period for eligibility.  


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