January 16, 2020
On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to increase the regulatory requirement from a 180-day waiting period before applying for work authorization to 365 days.
This proposal seeks to achieve two main objectives: First, to give the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) sufficient time to adequately review employment applications. Second, to discourage fraudulent applications for work authorization in the US.
Research manager Josh Smith, Innovation Fellow Katarina Hall, and Undergraduate Research Fellow Lizzy Sam comment on the unintended consequences of the suggested increase in wait time. Extensive research exists on the economic benefits of immigrants to the US economy. Those benefits are contingent on refugees and immigrants being allowed to work. Fundamentally, the proposed rule change limits access to employment, which studies suggest can push refugees towards illegal work arrangements and reduce public safety by increasing crime rates.
The USCIS and DHS are rightfully concerned with a growing backlog of petitions for asylum in the US. Efforts to reduce the backlog are needed, but decreasing access to work will not help to reduce the immigration backlog or effectively discourage fraudulent applications.
In place of longer delays, policymakers should pursue policies that give swift and clear access to work authorization. For example, USCIS could:
- Institute a presumptive permission for refugees to work while USCIS processes applications.
- Collaborate with states on refugee admission through state-based visas.
Their comment summarizes the proposed rule change, discusses the economic impacts of refugees, and then details research showing the risks of pushing refugees into black markets by making it harder for them to work legally. They conclude with policy alternatives that will give refugees more opportunities to contribute to local economies and the national US economy. In addition, they show the likely public safety benefits of a work-first approach. Policies that quickly integrate refugees into the economy and culture by granting immigrants the freedom to work will benefit the US economy and public safety.
CGO Undergraduate Research Fellow