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Congresswoman Pingree Renews Push to Speed Up Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Process

Maine’s 1st District Congresswoman reintroduces legislation to shorten asylum seeker work authorization waiting period, eliminate 2-year renewal requirement

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today reintroduced her bipartisan Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, legislation that reduces the current 180-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 updated legislation would also eliminate the cumbersome 2-year renewal schedule. The bill makes no changes to law or regulation relating to the asylum process, but would have a significant impact on new asylum seekers in Maine—allowing them to gain work more quickly, become self-sufficient through the process of establishing roots in their new community, and contribute to our economy.

“Asylum seekers—many of whom are living in shelters and hotels with help from local governments and nonprofits—are lawfully protected to be here, and they deserve the right to be self-sufficient and become part of their new communities,” said Pingree. “With my bill, asylum seekers will no longer be subject to an arbitrary waiting period before applying for work authorization and would be eligible to receive a work permit just 30 days after applying for asylum. Additionally, those work permits would no longer need to be renewed every two years, allowing asylum seekers to stay connected to their jobs and employers to maintain their labor force. My Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act corrects the counterintuitive work authorization 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.”

Under a federal law passed in 1996, asylum seekers are required to wait at least half a year after filing an asylum petition before being able to obtain authorization to work. This law requires 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 can 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 is 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 overturned in February 2022. 

In May 2022, Pingree welcomed the announcement from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that certain Employment Authorization Document renewal Applicants’ work permits would be automatically extended for 540 days, as opposed to 180 days which had proven insufficient. This announcement was intended to help avoid gaps in employment for noncitizens with pending work permit renewal applications and stability the continuity of operations for employers. The announcement followed a months-long push from Pingree for the Biden administration to address the work permit renewal delays and work to ease the bureaucratic backlog affecting work permit holders including several hundred asylum seekers in Maine.

In September 2022, Pingree led a letter with Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) to DHS Secretary Mayorkas calling on him to utilize his rulemaking authority to reduce the work permit wait time to 30 days and to consider other measures to improve humanitarian processing for asylum seekers at the border.

Pingree’s Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act is supported by national and state immigration groups including Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), Maine Business Immigration Coalition (MeBIC), Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), and Refugees International.

“Employers in Maine are struggling to fill open positions. We know that people who come here seeking asylum are eager to work. They’re ready, willing, but many are not able, due to overly burdensome application and renewal wait times for federal work authorization,” Joby Thoyalil, Director, Maine Business Immigration Coalition said. “MeBIC applauds Representative Pingree for introducing the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023, which will go a long way in reducing these barriers. Speeding up access to work authorization and eliminating burdensome renewal requirements will not only benefit Maine employers and families seeking asylum, but will be a boon to the Maine economy as a whole.”

“The Maine State Chamber of Commerce strongly supports reducing the time it takes for asylum seekers to be authorized to work. Getting asylum seekers to work sooner is key to filling gaps in worker shortages that businesses across Maine have been experiencing for decades. Holding back people who are willing, able, and eager to contribute to our economy and our communities is slowing economic growth in our state. We are grateful that Congresswomen Pingree has reintroduced this legislation in the House, and we also want to recognize Senator Collins for introducing legislation in the Senate and Senator King for being a co-sponsor. We are appreciative that the Maine Congressional Delegation is leading on efforts to shorten the time it takes and make it easier for asylum seekers to get to work in our state. Doing so will strengthen our economy, lift some of the burden on municipal and nonprofit resources, and increase diversity in Maine, altogether making Maine a more attractive place to live, work and do business,” said Dana Connors, President & CEO of Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

“ABIC applauds Representative Pingree for reintroducing the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act. With faster access to work permits, asylum seekers will more quickly have the dignity of supporting themselves while pursuing their lawful application process, while U.S. businesses facing critical labor shortages will gain a larger talent pool in every state in the country. Congress needs to put aside partisanship on immigration issues and pass this common-sense fix this year,” the American Business Immigration Coalition said.

“The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) commends Representative Chellie Pingree for introducing legislation that offers practical solutions to address the processing delays and backlogs in the U.S. asylum system,” said Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project Co-Executive Director Swapna Reddy. “No one - especially families fleeing violence - can wait 8 months to a year to get a work permit to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads. The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023 would allow asylum seekers to get work authorization as quickly as 30 days after applying for asylum, while minimizing the burden on employers during a historic labor shortage. Many of ASAP’s members have lost jobs after their work permits expire because of untenable wait times for renewals. By eliminating renewal requirements, Rep. Pingree’s bill would ensure that asylum seekers can remain employed for the duration of their case, saving employers countless resources spent on finding and training new staff for a position that they already filled.”

“Every time an asylum seeker needs to renew their employment authorization, delays and uncertainty create upheaval in their lives and needlessly waste government time and resources to re-adjudicate employment authorization. AILA applauds Congresswoman Pingree for introducing this ‘good government’ bill which will streamline government procedures and offer stability to both asylum seekers and their employers,” Amy Grenier, American Immigration Lawyers Association Policy and Practice Counsel said.

“Time and time again we hear from asylum seekers telling us how badly they want to find work in order to provide for themselves and their families. They do not come to the U.S. to seek donated clothing and shelter beds; they want to contribute to our economy and make a new home here,” said Tobin Williamson, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition Advocacy and Policy Manager said. “Among the biggest challenges we see in Maine right now are widespread labor shortages and city, state, and federal dollars being spent to provide housing and other services to people who are currently unable to work due to federal immigration policy. We are grateful that Congresswoman Pingree’s office continues to lead the way in the House by introducing this common-sense legislation which would help asylum seekers, taxpayers, and the economy all at the same time.”

“ILAP applauds Representative Pingree’s continued strategic leadership to reduce the time asylum seekers must wait to apply for work permits after submitting asylum applications. Her approach addresses many of the urgent issues Maine and other communities across the nation are facing, giving asylum seekers the opportunity to support themselves and their families, secure housing, free up resources in municipalities, states, and nongovernmental organizations, and allow employers to hire much needed workers. Updates in the language also respond to the extreme backlogs and delays at USCIS, ensuring that asylum seekers and their employers would not face gaps in employment at no fault of their own. Representative Pingree’s legislation is effective and commonsense and ILAP calls on Congress to follow her lead and pass the House version of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act into law,” Sue Roche, Executive Director of Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, said.



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