On November 8, 2019, Refugees International submitted a comment for the record opposing the Trump administration’s proposed rule to eliminate the 30-day deadline to process initial asylum seekers’ work permits. The rule effectively allows the government to take an unlimited amount of time to process asylum seekers’ requests for work authorization. Read the full comment from Refugees International’s Senior U.S. Advocate Yael Schacher below.
Chief, Regulatory Coordination Division
Office of Policy and Strategy
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security
20 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20529-2140
RE: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2018-0001: Comment to Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Dear Ms. Deshommes:
Refugees International respectfully submits this comment on the September 9, 2019, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for “Removal of 30-Day Processing Provision for Asylum Applicant-Related Form I-765 Employment Authorization Applications.” The government seeks to remove the 30-day processing requirement for a work authorization document. If finalized, the Proposed Rule would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] to indefinitely delay the adjudication of work authorization requests, which would leave asylum seekers without access to identification, employment opportunities, services and legal counsel that are critical to their ability to pursue their asylum claims and to their safety while they do so.
Refugees International is a non-governmental organization that advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people in parts of the world impacted by conflict, persecution, and forced displacement. We do not accept government or United Nations funding, which helps ensure that our advocacy is impartial and independent. Each year, Refugees International conducts approximately twenty field missions to identify displaced people’s needs for basic services such as food, water, healthcare, housing, access to education and protection from harm. Refugees International advocates for the importance of labor market access for refugees and asylum seekers all over the world, including in the United States.
In sending the Protocol to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to the U.S. Senate for ratification in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson wrote of the importance of enabling asylum seekers “to become self-supporting members of free societies, living under conditions of dignity and self- respect.”1 In the late 1980s, a federal court ruled that delaying the issuance of work authorization to asylum seekers could “compel an applicant to abandon his or her asylum application.”2 In 1994, the Department of Justice believed that the ability to apply for asylum and an employment authorization document simultaneously created a magnet for possible fraud but also recognized the hardships imposed on asylum applicants who were unable to support themselves or their families absent work authorization. 1994 regulations reflected a compromise: an asylum seeker whose case had not been completed at the 150-day mark could file for work authorization. The INS was then obligated to process the work authorization application within 30 days.3 More than two decades later, the court in Rosario v. USCIS reiterated the importance of this principle when it ordered USCIS to comply with the 30-day processing requirement. In doing so, the court remarked that it was “abundantly clear” that a lengthy asylum process demands prompt adjudication of work authorization applications so asylum seekers can support themselves.4 Ending this 30 day requirement will remove an important safeguard for asylum seekers eager to be self-sufficient and assimilate into our American economy.
Refugees International is well aware of what happens in other countries when work authorization for asylum seekers is restricted or delayed. Without access to work authorization, asylum seekers in Turkey have been pushed into an abusive underground labor market.5 Studies have shown that waiting periods for work authorization for asylum seekers in Europe have very long term negative impacts on the ability of asylum seekers to find employment.6 Preventing asylum seekers from working metes out a terrible human toll, depriving them of purpose and motivation, making them feel powerless to support their families and to move forward in their lives.
Asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable noncitizens in the United States. Many arrive traumatized by violence and persecution that forced them to flee and have exhausted their resources on the journey. When they arrive, the U.S. government does not provide them with housing, stipends, or government appointed counsel. Asylum seekers without work authorization have difficulty obtaining healthcare and medical treatment, identification documents such as drivers’ licenses,7 opening back accounts and getting leases, and affording legal counsel for their underlying asylum applications, making it much less likely that they will prevail on their applications. Asylum seekers forced to wait longer periods for work authorization may turn to exploitative work underground (with increased risk of trafficking) and they and their children could fall into sickness and homelessness. If this rule goes into effect, asylum seekers without means of support may be forced to abandon their claims. This rule, like the Remain in Mexico policy and many other recently implemented policies, aim to make seeking asylum so difficult and full of suffering in order to inhibit people from applying and pursuing their claims, which is a clear violation of the Refugee Act of 1980.
The rule would not only negatively affect asylum seekers and their families. Charities and service providers will be forced to expend limited resources to help asylum seekers with subsistence while they wait longer for the ability to support themselves through work. Without a work permit and thus an ID, asylum seekers will hesitate to call the police if they or someone they know are victims of a crime, thus making neighborhoods and communities less safe.
The notice of the proposed rulemaking does not provide sufficient reasons for the rule nor consider better alternatives. The notice states that USCIS needs more time to adjudicate asylum work authorization applications because of changes to vetting procedures and increased background checks resulting from the U.S. government’s response to the September 11, 2011 terror attacks. Yet, these changes have been in place since 2004 with the creation of the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security. USCIS has had well over a decade to implement post-9/11 enhanced vetting and security checks and has been vetting asylum applicants with these criteria for fifteen years. If USCIS hired more officers and trained them, within a few months there would be more trained officers who could adjudicate work authorization applications expeditiously. DHS instead rejects out of hand the possibility of hiring more officers. It does not even provide an estimate of the cost of hiring more officers, nor does it engage in an economic analysis of the cost of hiring new officers as compared to the loss to the tax base by preventing asylum seekers from working lawfully and paying taxes. (DHS admits in the rule that asylum seekers would lose annual salary wages and benefits totaling between $255.88 million to $774.76 million.) If USCIS genuinely needs more time to process work permit applications, it has an alternative solution which the notice fails to consider: allow asylum applicants to file their applications for employment authorization together with their applications for asylum (as they did before 1994) and adjudicate the application for employment authorization on the 180th day thereafter.
For these reasons, Refugees International urges the withdrawal of the Proposed Rule.
Senior U.S. Advocate
 Lyndon B. Johnson “Special Message to the Senate Transmitting the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.”
1 August 1968. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon Johnson 1968-1969. No. 428. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office: 868-69
 Ramos v. Thornburgh, 732 F. Supp. 696 (E.D. Tex. 1989).
 Rules and Procedures for Adjudication of Applications for Asylum or Withholding of Deportation and for
Employment Authorization, 59 Fed. Reg. 14779 (Mar. 30, 1994)
 Rosario v. USCIS, No. C15-0813JLR (W.D. Wash).
 An employment authorization document is a prerequisite to being issued a social security number, which is a critical for children and the elderly who are not seeking to join the labor force. Unaccompanied children need work authorization documents to get social security numbers in order to accessing long-term educational opportunities, qualifying for vocational and technical programs, obtaining health insurance, and receiving preventative care.