What the USCIS Work Permit Backlog Could Mean for Immigrants

Despite major labor shortages in critical industries across the nation, more than a million immigrants are patiently waiting for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to issue them work permits. Without these work permits, many immigrants face the possibly of losing their jobs.

When the U.S. immigration system is functioning under normal circumstances, issuing work permits to eligible immigrants isn’t an issue because they are meant to be handed out quickly so that immigrants can be self-sufficient while they are waiting for other visa and green card applications to process, which can take months or even years.

However, the backlog at USCIS has reached crisis level now that the agency is overstretched and unable to keep up with application reviews. Currently, USCIS is taking roughly eight months to a year to issue work permits at the National Benefits Center, the agency’s main processing center. Under federal law, USCIS can take no longer than 180 days to process work permit applications.

According to the most recently available data from USCIS, as of September 2021, the backlog stood at more than 1.48 million pending applications. This backlog poses a serious problem for immigrants who are applying for work permits for the first time, as well as immigrants who are trying to renew their employment authorization. Although work permits are generally valid for two years and can be automatically extended for 180 days, after the extension expires, the immigrant can no longer legally work.

The backlog is impacting a wide range immigrants who fall into different visa categories, from asylum seekers to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Industries like trucking and tech, both of which rely heavily on immigrant labor, had nearly 11 million unfilled jobs as of December 2021. While these industries need every worker they can get right now, pandemic-era policies prevented close to 2 million new immigrants from entering the U.S., which limited the supply of workers who would have otherwise been eligible if not for the work permit backlog that is standing in the way.

Since President Joe Biden has taken office, USCIS has taken some measures to address the backlog problem, however, the agency has stopped short of automatically extending the validity period of expired work permits.

USCIS temporarily waived fingerprinting requirements for some applicants, exempted spouses of certain visa holders from applying separately for work authorization, and extended the validity period of newly issued work permits from one to two years for some immigrants admitted entry into the country on humanitarian grounds. UCSIS also hired 200 new employees in the agency’s asylum division to tackle the backlog.

While USCIS has implemented free expedited processing for health care workers who have applied to renew their work permits, there isn’t much immigrants can do aside from calling USCIS’s offices every day to check on the status of their renewal application and wait to hear whether they are approved.

Consult with Our Immigration Team Today If Your Application Is Backlogged

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