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Does the US Work Permit for Asylum Seekers Discourage Applicants?

The wording on the Statute of Liberty near New York’s Ellis Island – the port of entry to the United States of millions of immigrants between 1892 and 1954 – reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” In recent years, however, people desperately seeking freedom in America from oppressive regimes, notably Syria, have found complicated, seemingly insurmountable obstacles in trying to gain entry here, and an asylum process that is far more confusing than it is comforting.

The U.S. Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Thus Far

The issues with America’s work permit for asylum process have come into focus in recent months as the world is finally turning its attention to the massive Syrian refugee crisis. Although Syria has been in a state of civil war involving brutal government oppression of its own citizens since 2011, causing millions of Syrians to flee into neighboring countries to avoid violence, it is only in the past year that the spotlight has been put on world governments to provide refuge to the more than 4 million Syrian refugees. The vast majority of the refugees have fled to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, but many of those are living in camps in destitute conditions with no permanent plans for integration. The European Union recently agreed to take in 120,000 refugees, only a small portion of those needing help. By comparison, however, the United States response in providing asylum has been even less generous, having taken in only 1,700 refugees as of late 2015, although there are plans to take in an additional 10,000 by 2017 (it should be noted, however, that the United States has offered more financial aid to assisting refugees than all other countries).

Asylum vs. Resettlement

For those Syrians (or refugees from other countries) hoping to be one of the 100,000 total refugees from around the world that the United States has pledged to resettle over the next year, the asylum process can be daunting and, in many cases, seemingly impossible. One key distinction to understand is the difference between applying for asylum and resettlement.

With asylum, a person actually enters the United States and requests political asylum. If the person is permitted to enter the country, he or she must then begin the process of applying for asylum. To obtain asylum, a person must show that he cannot stay in his home country due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, being a member of a particular social group, or having a political opinion. While many fleeing Syria qualify based on this standard, the problem is the enormous backlog that asylum seekers face. Experts indicate that the waiting time for obtaining asylum is currently around three years, due to immigration court underfunding, delay, and procedural safeguards put in place since 9/11.

In comparison, a person who stays in his or her own home country may apply to live in the US through the process of resettlement. This process can be quicker than that of gaining asylum, but the problem is that many people simply cannot stay in their home country during the resettlement process for fear of violence. For those that can use this process, applicants must submit to several rounds of interviews with US agencies, which include questions related to political affiliations, leaving some applicants ineligible for resettlement even if the affiliations were made under duress.

Asylum Seekers Cannot Obtain Immediate Work Permits

Compounding the asylum-seeking process, people currently in the US who are waiting for asylum cannot receive any federal benefits during that time, although certain states may offer some benefits. Asylum seekers may also not work for approximately the first half-year they are here, as they have to wait 150 days before they can apply for a work permit, and another 30 days for the permit to be processed. Thus, many asylum seekers in the US find themselves without the ability to work or receive benefits and may have to survive completely on savings or the charity of others.

Work with a Trusted Immigration Attorney

Parties seeking to stay in the United States through either the asylum or resettlement process face a long, tough road ahead, but the good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Work with a trusted, experienced immigration attorney who can guide you and your family through this difficult process and begin a promising new chapter in your lives. Contact Lee, Green, Stewart & Paul Attorneys at Law today at (626) 325-0770