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Upwardly Global Opposes 365-Day Wait to Work

Upwardly Global Opposes 365-Day Wait to Work

Public Comment for Federal Registery

Dec. 19, 2019

Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization committed to building an inclusive, future-ready workforce that embraces the skills of work-authorized immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers and asylee professionals. Since our founding in 2000, we have supported more than 14,000 work-authorized, college-educated newcomers–including asylum seekers–with job coaching, networking and skill-building programs, ensuring that they can fully contribute their education, skills and experience to the U.S. workforce. 

We respectfully express opposition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) proposed rule, “Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants,” (“NPRM”), which would make significant changes to the process by which asylum seekers can apply for employment authorization, including a proposal to double the amount of time that asylum seekers must wait to apply for work permits. Upwardly Global is concerned that proposed change will both delay and hinder asylum seekers’ ability to support themselves economically, stymying both their immediate ability to achieve self-sufficiency as their cases are pending and also their long-term potential for professional success and economic contributions in this country. 

The NPRM states that “DHS recognizes that a number of aliens who are legitimate asylum seekers may experience potential economic hardship because of the extended waiting period” for filing the employment authorization document (“EAD”) application. Upwardly Global’s data and experience demonstrates that DHS may underestimate the significant economic impact to the local economy as well as to the asylum seekers. The proposed rule will also unnecessarily harm the emotional and physical well being of vulnerable asylum seekers and their families who seek refuge from persecution. 

Since 2017, Upwardly Global has supported more than 300 asylum seekers in rebuilding professional careers in the United States, in high-demand industries including IT, engineering, health care and finance. Our work uniquely positions us to understand how timely access to work authorization is critical in allowing asylum seekers to achieve self-sufficiency in the United States, while also benefiting local employers and economies by allowing asylum seekers to contribute tax revenues, fill skills gaps, and build vibrant workforces. Upwardly Global’s cohort of 309 asylum seekers alone earns $18.2 million annually—an average salary of more than $59,000 each—contributing an estimated $2.1 million in federal taxes each year. Recent examples of asylum seekers served by our program include: 

  • A physician from Nigeria with a background in HIV prevention who is now working for a major Chicago-area lab as a Clinical Research Associate.
  • A data scientist from Turkey with a background in IT who is now an analyst with a national payroll company in New York. 
  • A finance professional from El Salvador who now works as a staff accountant at a Bay-Area nonprofit organization. 

Upwardly Global program participants report struggling to make ends meet under the current “180-day Asylum EAD Clock.” Many have spent significant shares of their personal savings to  escape persecution and arrive in the United States, and struggle to afford basic food and shelter with what remains. Often, asylum seekers must stretch savings to support more than just themselves; the 309 asylum seekers in Upwardly Global’s program have 169 dependent children.   

Human Rights First documents how many asylum seekers experience homelessness, hunger, and limited access to healthcare during the current 180-day waiting period. And to add to the lengthy time frame asylum seekers face in securing work authorization, processing times of EAD applications across the country, once filed, are currently projected by USCIS to take as long as seven months.

Upwardly Global is concerned that doubling the waiting time for employment authorization will pose significant, even life-threatening, burdens for people who otherwise have no means to work, provide for their families, access healthcare, or achieve self-sufficiency. We also share additional, specific concerns about the economic impact of the NPRM, including: 

  1. DHS underestimates asylum seekers’ economic contributions in estimating the NPRM’s economic effects on wages and taxes. By DHS’s own data estimates, delaying asylum seekers’ ability to access employment authorization could result in $542.7 million in lost compensation, along with an $84.2 million reduction in employment tax transfers. These estimates are based on a prevailing minimum wage of $8.25 on the lower bound and a national average wage of of $24.98 as upper bound. However, Upwardly Global data suggest that these estimates are likely low. The asylum seekers in our program earn an average of $59,043 annually– about $28.38 an hour– significantly higher than the national annual mean wage of $51,960. Several program participants earn six-figure salaries. All of our program participants arrive in the U.S. with college degrees or technical certification from their home countries; nearly 65 percent of the 309 asylum seekers in our program came with experience in STEM and healthcare fields, industries with well-documented worker shortages. The above-average salaries they command after securing the EAD illustrate the premium that U.S employers place on their skills and experience, and strongly suggest that delaying their entry to the workforce would have a significant negative impact.

  2. The burden on U.S. employers will be more significant than described in the NPRM. The NPRM acknowledges that employers may face difficulties in finding reasonable labor substitutes if asylum seekers are kept out of the workforce, especially given the current low levels of unemployment in the U.S. The NPRM concedes that “USCIS does not know what [the] next best alternative may be for those companies.” Again, Upwardly Global data and experience suggest that the NPRM may underestimate the degree to which asylum seekers occupy niche or hard-to-fill positions in the U.S. workforce. Nearly 65 percent of the asylum seekers in our program came to the U.S. with backgrounds in the STEM and healthcare fields, industries with well-documented worker shortages in the U.S.
  3. Adding biometrics requirements to work authorization applications increases costs and burden on applicants. DHS proposed to incorporate biometrics collection into the employment authorization process for asylum seekers. As asylum seekers will have already submitted biometrics as part of their initial asylum applications, at a cost of $85, requiring additional collection is redundant and poses unnecessary financial burden on applicants. The NPRM calculates total costs for EAD-related biometrics collection to be $37,769,580, to be shouldered by asylum seekers who, by definition, will not be authorized to work before the application period. The $85 biometrics fee would be collected in addition to a proposed $490 fee to file for work authorization (Form I-765) being proposed in a separate NPRM (DHS Docket No.USCIS-2019-0010, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements”), putting the total cost of applying for a work permit at $575, out of reach for people who are relying on limited savings to survive. Finally, biometrics collection will require applicants to appear in person at an Application Support Center, which requires coordination of transportation and lodging, at additional cost to the applicant.

  4. The cumulative effects of recent NPRMs essentially puts work authorization out of reach for asylum seekers. The changes outlined in this NPRM, if implemented in tandem with the plans outlined in other recent NPRMs, including DHS Docket No. USCIS-2018-0001 (“Removal of 30-Day Processing Provision for Asylum DHS Docket No.USCIS-2019-0010 (“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements”) will have the cumulative result of effectively putting work authorization out of reach for asylum seekers. We are concerned that the combined effects of these NPRMs–levying and raising fees for I-765 applications while also doubling the amount of time asylum seekers must wait to apply and removing established guidelines for processing the form–will essentially make work authorization unattainable for asylum seekers who otherwise have no means to access work, income, or self-sufficiency in this country. U.S. employers and local economies will bear the brunt of this lost opportunity to embrace the talents of these workers with in-demand skill sets and experience. 

Upwardly Global data suggests that the economic and humanitarian consequences of delayed work authorization for asylum seekers may be more significant than DHS estimates in the NPRM. As such, we urge DHS to withdraw this proposed rule and work to streamline both the processing of asylum petitions and employment authorization applications for asylum seekers. Upwardly Global calls for the government to build policies that equip asylum seekers with the ability to support themselves while their cases are pending, and recognizes their potential for significant contributions to our nation’s workforce and economy.

Sincerely,

Jina Krause-Vilmar

President & CEO

Upwardly Global