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Expanding Work Permits Will Allow More Immigrants To Contribute And Address Critical Labor Shortages, House Democrats And Advocates Say

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35 House Democrats led by Reps. Chuy García (D-IL), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Lou Correa (D-CA) and Darren Soto (D-FL) have penned a letter urging the Biden administration to use existing law to extend work permits to both new and long-time immigrants already in the U.S. The letter has the support of 50 business and immigration organizations, including the American Business Immigration Coalition, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and National Immigration Law Center, just to name a few.

If the Biden administration moves forward on the call for expansion of work permits, it would come at a crucial moment. Because of the backlog at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it can take over a year for an immigrant who is eligible to receive work authorization.

“As a result, these delays have contributed to uncertainty on the lives of asylum seekers and parolees, as well as their potential employers and their local economies,” House members write. “At the same time, employers face a historic labor shortage. Addressing the work permit backlog will help provide work permits as soon as possible while expanding the workforce at this critical time.” 

CNBC reported that the construction industry is facing a shortage of more than 650,000 workers, “the highest level of open positions ever recorded.” It’s not just the construction industry either. Nearly 10 million jobs are currently vacant, the House lawmakers noted. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed that between 20 and 60 percent of jobs remained unfilled in key work sectors including manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial services, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality,” they continued.

Overhauling our broken immigration system and putting the 11 million undocumented immigrants onto a path to citizenship could go a long way in helping fill these open jobs, by bringing more workers into the formal economy. But anti-immigrant legislators continue to block much-needed reforms. In absence of that legislative relief, the Biden administration can use its authority to allow both newer and long-time immigrants to fill these critical vacancies, support themselves and their families, and boost our economy.

“Here’s the reality: employers are facing a historic labor shortage and there are people ready to work,” Rep. García said at a press conference organized by American Business Immigration Coalition Action last week. He was joined by a number of House Democrats and business and immigration advocates, including CASA and Mi Familia Vota.

“Humanitarian Parole and work permits are a practical solution for our country’s labor shortage,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Nanette Barragán. “For immigrants and their loved ones, this provides economic security and the opportunity to work towards a better life. Immigrants’ skills strengthen and enrich our workforce, and they should be allowed to contribute to our economy.” Mi Familia Vota CEO Héctor Sánchez Barba noted that immigrant workers like essential farmworkers are already making significant contributions to our homes and nation.

“During the pandemic, undocumented immigrants kept our country going and gave us hope as a nation when we needed it the most,” he said at the event. “They were the definition of essential workers; they worked in the fields so we could eat, and they were the nurses who pulled double shifts to keep us healthy. Long-term undocumented immigrants have more than earned the right to work permits and parole.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-MA) reintroduced legislation earlier this year seeking to speed up the work authorization process for asylum-seekers by reducing the waiting period from 180 days to 30 days. “Often, because of technical issues and delays in processing work authorization requests, this time period is much longer,” her office said. The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act has received the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We believe Congress can make meaningful progress to secure America’s borders and modernize the broken immigration system,” a letter from the Chamber said.

The organization is also urging lawmakers to act on other pieces of legislation addressing our broken immigration system, such as the American Dream and Promise Act, which would put DACA recipients and TPS holders onto a path to citizenship and passed the House by wide and bipartisan margins in 2019 and again in 2021. “Action on these bipartisan bills would be a good start,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continued. 

The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act “corrects the counterintuitive work authorization process with a commonsense solution, giving asylum seekers an opportunity to live a safe, fulfilling life while giving our economy the boost it so desperately needs,” Rep. Pingree said. “Time and time again we hear from asylum seekers telling us how badly they want to find work in order to provide for themselves and their families,” said Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition’s Tobin Williamson. “They do not come to the U.S. to seek donated clothing and shelter beds; they want to contribute to our economy and make a new home here.”