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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Work Permits for Asylum Seekers - Some Good News

    The new Administration has raised anxieties in immigrant and asylum seeker communities. In part, this is because of President Trump’s rhetoric (and rhetorical style) during the election. And in part, it’s because we just don’t know what to expect from a Trump Administration. Rumors have been flying: Will there be some sort of Muslim ban? Will the President repeal DACA? Or will he (and Congress) create a permanent legalization for DACA recipients? Mr. Trump will be issuing some executive orders later today banning Syrian and other refugees from coming to the U.S., and restricting visas for people from certain Middle Eastern countries. How this will all play out, we shall see.
    Filling gaps is a good thing.
    But amidst the uncertainty, there is some good news related to work permits—or Employment Authorization Documents (“EADs”)—for asylum seekers.

    First, last fall, the government started issuing two-year EADs instead of one-year EADs to people with pending asylum cases. This was a helpful development. It saves money since applicants now only have to apply for a new card every other year. It also makes it easier to obtain and retain employment, since employers feel more confident hiring people who have a longer period of authorized employment. In addition, many states issue driver’s licenses that correspond to the dates on the EAD, so a two-year card means a two-year license. All this helps ease the wait for people seeking asylum.


    Second, last week the government issued new (and long anticipated) regulations “to help prevent gaps in employment authorization”:

    DHS is providing for the automatic extension of expiring EADs (and underlying employment authorization, if applicable) for up to 180 days with respect to individuals who are seeking renewal of their EADs (and, if applicable, employment authorization) based on the same employment authorization categories under which they were granted.

    This means that when you file to renew your EAD, your card will be automatically extended for 180 days once you receive the receipt (it usually takes three or four weeks to get the receipt). This is an important development, since USCIS has been taking months to process EAD renewals, and people were losing their jobs and driver’s licenses while they waited for their new EADs.


    The automatic EAD extensions apply to refugees, people with asylum, and people who have pending asylum or withholding of removal cases, among others. You can see the new regulations here (see page 82491, the second to last page of the PDF) and here (page 82455, footnote 98, which lists the categories of people eligible for the automatic EAD extension).


    Also, remember that you can apply for a new EAD up to 120 days before the old card expires. Even with the most recent change, it is still a good idea to apply early for your new card, so you receive the replacement EAD as soon as possible.

    And here’s one last tip for today. If you cannot afford to pay for the new EAD (fees recently went up), you can request a fee waiver from USCIS, which—if granted—allows you to obtain a new EAD without paying the fee. To apply for a fee waiver, use form I-912, available here.

    I have written many times about the affirmative asylum backlog. It has been a real disaster for asylum seekers—especially those separated from their family members. The recent changes to the EAD process, during the waning days of the Obama Administration, have at least made one aspect of the wait easier, and for that, we can be thankful.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. Easing the Burden of Asylum Seekers... a Bit

    It's rare these days that I actually have good news to report from the Asylum Office, but recently there have been a few small improvements that are worth noting. These are not earth-shattering changes, to be sure, so don't get too excited, but they do represent movement in the right direction.
    There are plenty of things you can do without an EAD.
    First, as you may know, there are now long delays applying for and renewing the Employment Authorization Document ("EAD") - the work permit. As the law now stands, you must wait 150 days after filing the asylum application before you can apply for an EAD. During this period, it is often impossible to get a driver's license or a job, or to attend school, so the sooner the EAD arrives, the better.

    We used to see clients get the EAD in a month or two after filing, but recently, it is more like four months. Combined with the 150-day waiting period, this means that asylum applicants are waiting about nine months from the time they file for asylum until the time they receive their EAD. That's a long time to be without the ability to get a driver's license or a job, and it is one of the hardest parts of the application process.

    After the EAD is received, it must be renewed every year. The earliest a renewal can be submitted is 120 days before the current EAD expires. But the renewals also take about four months, so even if you remember to file the renewal at the earliest possible date, you may end up with a gap between the old work permit and the new. This could cause you to lose your driver's license or your job, and it is quite stressful for many people.


    Fortunately, there is some relief in sight. Under new proposed rules, USCIS would automatically extend the EAD at the time the application for renewal is filed. In other words, when you submit the form I-765 to renew your EAD, you will receive a receipt after a few weeks, and this receipt will automatically extend the validity of your existing EAD. This rule also applies to EAD applications for refugees and asylees (people granted asylum), and a few others.


    The rule has not gone into effect yet, and I am not 100% sure it is a done deal (though I do not see why they would change their mind). Perhaps if you are an asylum seeker who would like to see this rule implemented, you can tell USCIS about the hardship you've experienced due to EAD delays. Anyone is allowed to comment on the new rule by emailing USCISFRComment@dhs.gov. If you email them your story, you need to include the reference number of the rule in the subject line of your email, as follows: "DHS Docket No. USCIS-2015-0008".


    Perhaps coincidentally, I made this exact proposal for EADs a few months back. I presume that USCIS listened to me and they will be sending me a fruit basket to thank me for the good idea. Maybe they missed the other part of my proposal, where I suggested that EADs should remain valid for two years instead of one, but the automatic extension is a good start, and it will be a welcome relief for thousands of asylum seekers.


    The second bit of good news is more minor, but it is still a positive development. It used to be that when submitting the asylum application (form I-589) and supporting documents, we were required to submit the original and two copies. The new rule is that we submit the original and one copy. OK, perhaps this is only something a true asylum geek can get excited about (and maybe "excited" is too strong a word), but it does save some money and some trees, so that is all good.


    For me, these changes (particularly the change related to EADs) are a sign that USCIS recognizes the new reality created by the backlog: People are going to wait for a long time, and this is a hardship that needs to be addressed. If USCIS is willing to help out with EADs, I would hope that even more changes are coming. As I discussed previously, a few low-cost improvements might include prioritizing people separated from family members, making the Advance Parole process easier, and making the asylum application and waiting process more transparent. But that is a discussion for another day. For now, we can be happy that the burden on asylum seekers will be made a little lighter.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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