In late June 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced two regulatory changes intended to deprive asylum applicants of the ability to work lawfully in the United States while they await the adjudication of their asylum applications. By increasing the obstacles asylum seekers overcome to obtain an Employment Authorization Document, commonly known as a “work permit,” the new rules endanger the health and safety of asylum seekers and their families.
The first rule change, effective August 21, 2020, eliminates the requirement that USCIS must process employment authorization applications within 30 days of receiving the application. This rule change allows USCIS to adjudicate work permit applications for an indeterminate period of time, which will inevitably result in delays. The government claims this move will deter immigrants from filing “frivolous, fraudulent, or otherwise non-meritorious [asylum] claims.” But the rule change is more likely to force asylum seekers further into poverty and informal economies, thereby making it more difficult for them to meet their basic needs.