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‘I Can Keep Supporting My Family, and Doing Much-Needed Work In My Community’: Biden Administration Extends Work Permits for 800,000 Immigrant Workers

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Immigrant workers and their advocates are celebrating news that the Biden administration has issued a temporary rule extending work permits for roughly 800,000 individuals who were at risk of losing their permission to work due to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing delays. Without action, immigrant workers would have begun to lose their work permits within a matter of weeks, risking their livelihoods and contributions to their communities.

While asylum-seekers and immigrants who are in the process of adjusting their status to permanent residency are the two largest groups to benefit from the 540-day work permit extension, refugees and certain Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders will also see relief. “This is the latest step by the Biden-Harris administration to get work-authorized individuals into the workforce, supporting the economies where they live,” USCIS said.

Anar Boldbaatar, an asylum seeker and member of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), called it “great news” for those waiting in anxiety over the status of their jobs. 

“Because of this extension, I will be able to renew my driver’s license and not lose my job working as a truck driver,” Boldbaatar said in a statement received by America’s Voice. “I know I am one of many ASAP members and other immigrants who have been worrying that we may lose our jobs because of delays in processing work permit renewal applications. I am relieved to be able to tell my work that they can count on me, and grateful I can keep supporting my family, and doing much-needed work in my community.”

ASAP was among more than 150 organizations that last fall urged the Biden administration to extend work permits in order to help combat processing delays, and in April endorsed a letter from members of the House and Senate noting that immigrant workers are at risk of losing their income “because of bureaucratic delays outside of their control. This severely limits their ability to pay rent, buy food, and support themselves and their families.” 

These delays also hurt communities all across the nation because asylum seekers, refugees, and TPS holders contribute billions to the economy every year. North Carolina, Michigan, and Massachusetts are among the 19 states where refugees hold more than $1 billion in spending power, the American Immigration Council said. “In California alone, their spending power totals more than $20.7 billion, while in Texas, the equivalent figure is more than $5.4 billion.”

In their February letter, more than 40 U.S. mayors warned that allowing work permits to lapse would hurt businesses “still struggling to address the current labor shortage.” These businesses, the mayors said, “cannot handle further disruption to their operations from losing the employees they already have. A longer extension will allow immigrants to keep their jobs and businesses to operate without interruption.”

Helen Muradyan, another ASAP member from Armenia, relayed having to stop working as a medical doctor for two months during the pandemic due to the backlog. “Significant numbers of immigrants already work in this sector,” the National Immigration Forum’s Dan Kosten said in 2021, “but if provided the opportunity, they could have a critical role in helping the United States address future shortages in home healthcare occupations.” Advocates and lawmakers have also urged the Biden administration to expand work permits to address critical labor shortages and further boost the economy.

“I am so happy to know that the government is extending work permits for immigrants once again, so that no immigrant has to go through what I went through,” Muradyan said. “Backlogs have caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering in the past. I applaud the government for taking action before any more immigrants lose their jobs.” 

“Today, DHS ensured that ASAP members and other immigrants can rest easier knowing they will lose their jobs because of work permit processing backlogs,” said Conchita Cruz, ASAP Co-Executive Director. “This is a huge victory for our members who have relentlessly advocated for a longer work permit extension. We are grateful to all of our allies within the immigrants’ rights community, local and state government, Congress, labor, and the business community, for calling on the federal government to take action and extend work permits.” 

All the economic data we’ve seen over the past few months has validated the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy. As NBC News noted after last week’s blockbuster jobs report, “Economists increasingly believe that the post-pandemic surge in immigration is a key reason the economy has been able to grow steadily without pushing inflation higher, as the new arrivals have helped employers fill roles at levels of pay that have kept a lid on overall price growth.” This latest action by USCIS will help those families, their communities and our nation.