“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. 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,”

— Tobin Williamson,Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has reintroduced her Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act. Passage of the legislation would reduce the current 180-day waiting period for work authorization eligibility to 30 days, meaning that an asylum seeker could apply for authorization as soon as their asylum claim was filed. The legislation would also eliminate the 2-year renewal schedule. The bill makes no changes to law or regulation relating to the asylum process.  

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine

“Asylum seekers—many of whom are living in shelters and hotels with help from local governments and nonprofits—are lawfully protected to be here, and they deserve the right to be self-sufficient and become part of their new communities.” 

— Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

Under a federal law passed in 1996, asylum seekers are required to wait at least half a year after filing an asylum petition before being able to obtain authorization to work. This law requires that, once a person filed an asylum claim, he or she must wait 150 days before being able to apply for a work authorization, which can be granted no earlier than 180 days after the filing of the asylum claim. Often, because of technical issues and delays in processing work authorization requests, this time period is much longer. 

Joby Thoyalil, Director of Maine Business Immigration Coalition noted,  “Employers in Maine are struggling to fill open positions. We know that people who come here seeking asylum are eager to work. They’re ready, willing, but many are not able, due to overly burdensome application and renewal wait times for federal work authorization… Speeding up access to work authorization and eliminating burdensome renewal requirements will not only benefit Maine employers and families seeking asylum, but will be a boon to the Maine economy as a whole.”

“The Maine State Chamber of Commerce strongly supports reducing the time it takes for asylum seekers to be authorized to work. Getting asylum seekers to work sooner is key to filling gaps in worker shortages that businesses across Maine have been experiencing for decades. Holding back people who are willing, able, and eager to contribute to our economy and our communities is slowing economic growth in our state,” said Dana Connors, President and CEO of Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project Co-Executive Director Swapna Reddy spoke to the renewal schedule revision of the bill.Many of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project’s (ASAP) members have lost jobs after their work permits expire because of untenable wait times for renewals. By eliminating renewal requirements, Rep. Pingree’s bill would ensure that asylum seekers can remain employed for the duration of their case, saving employers countless resources spent on finding and training new staff for a position that they already filled,”

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP),Maine’s only state-wide immigration legal services organization, is strongly in favor of the legislation. “Representative Pingree’s legislation is effective and commonsense and ILAP calls on Congress to follow her lead and pass the House version of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act into law,” said Sue Roche, Executive Director of ILAP.

Pingree’s Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act is supported by national and state immigration groups including Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), Maine Business Immigration Coalition (MeBIC), Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), and Refugees International.