Employment of Asylum Seekers in the United States

Between Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2015, the United States government approved Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), or work permits, for 357,102 people with pending asylum applications.

The government issues these work permits for a limited time because it does not provide any financial assistance for asylum seekers who are awaiting decisions on their applications. In fact, of the 357,102 work permits issued from FY 2012 to FY 2015, all but 7,024 were valid for a year or less.

If you are seeking asylum in the United States, you may also apply for a work permit while you are awaiting a decision on your application, but only in certain circumstances.

The 150-day and 180-day waiting periods

You must physically be in the United States to request asylum here. Depending on your circumstances, you will do so by filing an application directly with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or in immigration court.

In either scenario, you can apply for an EAD or work permit if you are still waiting for a decision on your after 150 days. You will be eligible to receive one if you still haven’t heard anything about your asylum application after 180 days.

But there is a catch. An asylum officer or immigration judge has the authority to “stop” the 150-day clock if they think you asked for a delay in the proceedings or that you deliberately did something to cause a delay. For example, an asylum officer can stop the “clock” if:

  • You do not go to mandatory appointments related to your request for asylum
  • You ask to postpone a mandatory appointment
  • USCIS informs you it needs more information to make a decision (in this case the “clock” will stop until you supply the requested material)

An immigration judge can stop the clock if:

  • You request more time to prepare material related to your case
  • You ask for an attorney
  • You tell him or her you do not want an expedited hearing
  • You file any legal requests (that delay the legal proceedings)

It doesn’t matter how much time elapses after the “clock” is stopped; it will not count towards the 150-day or 180-day waiting period. Historically this has been true even in cases where the “clock” is stopped without a valid reason, or when you haven’t been told that it was stopped in the first place.

Of course, you will be able to apply for a work permit sooner if USCIS grants your request for asylum within the first 150 days after you have filed your application. You will also be able to apply for an EAD if you prevail in your immigration case (a judge grants your request for asylum).

Changes to asylum interview scheduling in 2018

In recent years, both USCIS and immigration courts have been inundated with asylum applications. As a result, most asylum seekers would go at least 150 days without a decision in their case. This meant that they were eligible to apply for and receive U.S. Work permits while their cases were pending.

In 2018, however, the government made an important change to the way in which asylum interviews are scheduled. Rather than scheduling them in order, the government is now scheduling interviews for the most recent asylum applicants first. Immigration lawyers and advocates say the government did this to discourage, if not prevent, people from seeking asylum here simply to obtain work permits.

To learn more about employment of asylum seekers in the United States, or how the changes in asylum interview scheduling may affect you, contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney today.