Statement for the Record | “Unlocking America’s Potential: How Immigration Fuels Economic Growth and Our Competitive Advantage”

Statement for the Record 

Senate Budget Committee Hearing
Unlocking America’s Potential: How Immigration Fuels Economic Growth and Our Competitive Advantage
September 14, 2023

Refugees International

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record.  

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. Refugees International does not accept government or UN funding, which helps ensure that our advocacy is impartial and independent. Refugees International actively works on advancing labor market access for forcibly displaced people, highlighting their desire for self-sufficiency and their ability to contribute to local economies. Refugees International also houses the Refugee Advocacy Lab, an initiative to grow the movement for U.S. leadership on the protection and inclusion of forcibly displaced people, with a focus on improving access to the workforce.  

From hospitality to manufacturing, industries across the United States are facing unprecedented workforce shortages. At the same time, people who have come here seeking safety are prevented from entering the labor force due to current immigration law requiring that asylum seekers wait 180 days after they have applied for asylum to receive work authorization. This waiting period was put in place more than 25 years ago with the intention of preventing immigrants from filing asylum claims just in order to get a work permit. But it has certainly not had a deterrent effect at least over the last decade. It instead has left talented, willing, and able asylum seekers in precarious economic conditions and unable to fill much-needed jobs rather than rely on local services. As one man who fled political persecution in Venezuela, where he used to run a business installing kitchens, told a reporter in New York City: “There are no words to describe the anxiety [of not having a legal work permit]…. I’m a working person…used to living on what I produce.” He said he did not want to live in a shelter but to work in open construction jobs he saw advertised.  

The best legislative fix for this is H.R. 1325 Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, which shortens the waiting period to apply for work permits to 30 days. The bipartisan bill has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, several local and state government officials, and legislators from both parties in the House of Representatives. It is simpler and more comprehensive than other bills addressing this issue because it covers the entire asylum seeker population and makes asylum seeker work permits continuously valid through the entire asylum adjudication process, thus eliminating administratively burdensome work permit renewal applications. This means that asylum seekers will not lose jobs and employers will not lose valuable employees if renewals are not processed before existing work permits expire.   

Recently, there have been several administrative solutions proposed as work-arounds to avoid addressing the statutory 180-day waiting period for asylum seekers to receive work authorization. Most involve the Biden administration granting asylum seekers other temporary statuses like Temporary Protected Status or parole so that they can apply for work authorization immediately. However, these solutions still require Congressional action of  increased appropriations to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) specially devoted to the adjudication of work authorization applications as has been included in the Senate’s FY24 budget request (page 102). Without more resources to adjudicate applications, it will take many months to make needed immigrant workers eligible for hire.  

No one disagrees that we need fundamental reforms to the U.S. immigration system that will allow increased legal migration to boost U.S. economic growth. Congress must also do much more to rationalize the U.S. asylum system—including reform of the immigration court. But there are workers already in the United States who want to, but cannot, do the jobs that employers need. The clearest way forward is passage of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act and appropriation of sufficient funds to USCIS to adjudicate work authorization applications. This is a clear win-win-win for business, state and local governments, and people seeking safety who want to provide for their families and contribute to their communities.

Featured Image: Participants stage a demonstration as New York City Mayor Eric Adams hosts rally and delivers remarks calling for expedited work authorization for asylum seekers in New York, United States on August 31, 2023. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)