The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will publish a new final rule on June 22, 2020, effective August 21, 2020, modifying features of the work permit process for asylum seekers. Some of the changes being made include:
- Eliminating the 30-day timeframe for adjudication of work permit requests for first-time applicants who have pending asylum applications
- Elimination of the 90-day submission requirement for asylum-based work permit renewals
Why is DHS proposing this rule now? First and foremost, the agency wants to stop people from applying for asylum. That has been a top objective of the Trump Administration since it took office. Part of the strategy is attacking not only the asylum process itself, but also the benefits that people who are applying for asylum are able to obtain. Here, there is a very favorable provision that allows asylum-seekers to get work permits quickly. This makes sense, because they already have to wait 150 days prior to filing the work permit application, and together with the 30 day adjudication period this means a full six months must pass before asylum seekers get work authorization. That period of time would strain any person’s financial resources and it causes hardship to asylum-seekers, who are already facing numerous hardships.
DHS cites many rational reasons for wanting to change this rule, such as the large increase in asylum applications and fraud concerns. But it is unfortunate to see DHS resorting to lowering its standards rather than decreasing processing time for work permits across the board. It should not take six months for DHS to issue a work permit except in rare cases where there is a delay due to background checks, suspected fraud, or other concerns. If DHS cannot do so, it should focus on increasing the efficiency of its processes rather than settling for delaying benefits for applicants.
Furthermore, DHS should have considered alternative options to simply eliminating the 30 day processing requirement for work permits. As one example, DHS left intact the requirement to wait 150 day prior to applying for work authorization. 8 C.F.R. Sec. 208.7(a)(1). Together with the 30 day timeframe, this period equaled the statutory period requiring asylum applicants to wait 180 days before approval of work authorization. If DHS simply wanted more time to adjudicate the work permits, it could allow asylum applicants to file prior to the 150 day period, even concurrently with the asylum application itself, and then would have a full 180 days to process the work permit application. Simply put, the 150 day rule is as artificial as the 30 day rule, but here DHS is only changing the part that benefits asylum applicants while leaving the part that is to their detriment intact.