Under new proposal, administration would bar most asylum-seekers from working while their cases are pending

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — A new round of proposed regulations from the administration would make it impossible for most asylum seekers to be permitted to work while their cases are pending.

Proposed regulations released in the Federal Register Nov. 14 would block asylum seekers from applying for work permits for a full year after submitting their asylum petitions.

“The United States has traditionally been a safe haven for asylum seekers,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of CLINIC. ”This proposed change pulls the rug out from under them, leaving them even more vulnerable and unable to support themselves during the asylum process.”

The proposed rule would increase the length of time an asylum application must be pending to 365 days before applicants can even apply for a work permit. Under current rules, asylum seekers can file after their applications have been pending 150 days and USCIS is required to make a decision within 30 days. During this waiting period, asylum seekers would be unable to work legally. Most asylum seekers come to the United States with little more than the clothes on their backs, and many would have no way to pay for legal counsel without being able to work.

“Time and again the administration has made it harder for the most vulnerable people, those in flight from life-threatening conditions in their homelands, to have access to counsel,” Gallagher said. “It is unjust and wrong that any asylum seeker would have to go through this increasingly complex system alone because the government is limiting their ability to hire counsel.”

The rule would also block work authorization for asylum seekers who enter the United States between ports of entry, those who did not file for asylum within one year of arrival in the United States and those with certain criminal convictions, among other exclusions. The rule would require officers of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who lack specialized asylum training, to make complex determinations about asylum law and criminal law. They would be given unprecedented discretion to deny asylum seekers employment authorization documents.

Also on Nov. 14, the administration formally announced proposed fee increases for a variety of immigration applications. Among them was a $50 fee to seek asylum — the first time the United States has sought to charge for this humanitarian protection.

Comments on the proposed asylum employment authorization rule may be submitted through Jan. 13, 2020.

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