There’s been a flurry of activity regarding employment and immigrants. I’m not an employment-based immigration attorney, so I can’t fully speak on the recent Presidential Proclamation that bars H-1Bs, certain H-2Bs, J and L visa applications from being processed (though if this impacts you and you aren’t sure where to turn, we can certainly provide referrals to attorneys with expertise in this area). I think our economy is stronger when we have the best people for the job – regardless of where the best was born.

However, I don’t want it to get lost that yesterday, USCIS announced a new policy regarding asylum and employment authorization documents (“EADs” or “work cards”). The policy goes into effect on August 25th and is downright vicious. The final rule states:

  • People who entered the US without a visa will be barred from obtaining a work card (absent good cause);
  • Asylum seekers with certain criminal behavior will be denied work cards;
  • Asylum seekers must wait ONE YEAR before applying for a work card;
  • No asylum seeker can have a work card for more than two years; and
  • The work card will automatically terminate when an Immigration Judge denies an asylum application.

Why is all of this a problem?

People who entered the US without a visa will be barred from obtaining a work card (absent good cause). Many asylum seekers are unable to obtain visas to come to the United States. There is no “asylum visa” and tourist visa denials are exceedingly high (especially from countries where many people are fleeing). There is no legal requirement that an applicant for asylum must enter with a visa in order to seek asylum. This unnecessarily restricts the ability of people to become self-sufficient while they await their asylum interview or trial.

Asylum seekers with certain criminal behavior will be denied work cards. I’m not sure what this criminal behavior restriction will look like. I am not condoning criminal behavior, but would an asylum applicant who gets arrested for driving without a license be unable to get a work card? In Georgia, one has to have a work card, green card, or be a US citizen to get a license. It’s a catch-22.

Asylum seekers must wait ONE YEAR before applying for a work card. Currently, asylum seekers have to wait 150 days from when they file their application to when they can apply for a work card. Forcing them to wait a year only prolongs their pain. Asylum seekers want to work and contribute to our communities. Forcing them to wait a year to apply (and then the processing times could be another 3-6 months) hurts all of us. Asylum seekers are not eligible for public benefits, so I fear that this will lead to increased poverty and homelessness for asylum seekers and their children.

No asylum seeker can have a work card for more than two years. If USCIS or the Immigration Courts could decide cases in two years, maybe this would not be a problem.  However, I have two asylum cases pending that were filed in 2014, two from 2015, two from 2016, and four from 2017.  Each case involves an entire family. During this time of work authorization, clients have obtained jobs, purchased homes, enrolled their children in school and have started to build lives here. To take it all away after two years for no reason is arbitrary, capricious and vile.

The work card will automatically terminate when an Immigration Judge denies an asylum application. This means that if an asylum seeker appeals their asylum denial, they will be without work authorization. This only serves to disincentivize people from filing appeals, no matter how meritorious they are. Appeals can take years to work through the system and to take away a person’s ability to provide for their family and support themselves makes it nearly impossible to stay and fight.

Make no mistake about it, this Administration hates asylum and asylum-seekers. They do not want people coming to our country to seek freedom from persecution. They don’t care if you were kidnapped by Boko Haram, that you were tortured for being a journalist, or that your entire family was murdered because they belong to a minority ethnic group.

The team here will work with advocates around the country to stop this ban from going into effect and to ensure that all asylum seekers can ask for protection and do it in a way that provides them human dignity with the right to work.

-Tracie