There are different types of benefits available to people seeking asylum and people who have been granted asylum. Here we will discuss certain "benefits" - such as work permits, travel documents, and Green Cards - available to asylum seekers and asylees, and how these benefits can be improved.

Before we get to that, I should mention that there are other types of benefits available to asylees (i.e., people who have been granted asylum). These include cash and medical assistance, help finding a job, and English language classes. These benefits are fairly limited in scope and generally must be claimed shortly after asylum is approved, but they can be quite helpful, and they are certainly worth looking into. If you have been granted asylum, you can learn more about these benefits here.

In this post, I want to talk about benefits that come directly from the federal government, and how those benefits can be improved. Such benefits fall into two broad categories--those available while asylum is pending and those available after asylum is granted. Let's start with the benefits available to people who have a pending asylum case--

Employment Authorization Document or EAD: The law (INA § 208(d)(2)) imposes a waiting period of 180 days before an asylum seeker is eligible for an EAD. Under the old regulations (which interpret the law), asylum applicants could apply for an EAD 150 days after filing for asylum, on the (optimistic) theory that it would take at least 30 days to process the application and that the EAD would not be issued until 180 days had passed. The Trump Administration changed the waiting period to one year, but that change was partially blocked by a federal court. And so--as long as you jump through certain hoops--it remains possible to apply for an EAD 150 days after filing for asylum. Most observers expect the Biden Administration to return to the old 150-day rule, which it can do by issuing new regulations. But perhaps more can be done.

To reduce the 180-day waiting period requires a change in the law, which requires Congressional action. While this could be included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill, my sense is that such a change is unlikely. The rule was created in order to reduce fraud. The theory being that if we make it too easy/quick to get an EAD, more people will file for asylum solely to get a work permit. I suspect that this is true. Nevertheless, the waiting period has the effect of punishing everyone, and certainly legitimate asylum seekers are suffering because they can't earn a living while they wait for their case. The problem is compounded by the long waiting time for USCIS to process an EAD application (under the rules, it should take only 30 days, but we are seeing waits of five, six, and seven months--or more). So what can be done?

One easy solution is to allow asylum seekers to start processing the EAD earlier. The regulations used to allow applicants to file for the EAD 30 days before the 180 day waiting period had ended. Why not make it 60 or 90 days? Better yet, why not start the EAD process as soon as someone files for asylum? Under the EAD rules, if a person deliberately delays their case (by missing an appointment, for example), they can become ineligible for an EAD. That rule could still apply, but there is no good reason to force asylum seekers to apply separately for an EAD. The process can start automatically when the person files for asylum.

The Trump Administration made the EAD process more difficult in other ways as well, such as limiting or blocking EADs for people who entered the U.S. illegally, missed the one-year asylum filing deadline or had certain criminal convictions. These limitations should be removed, and we should go back to the pre-Trump EAD process, which at least allowed asylum applicants to obtain permission to work without all the bureaucratic barriers.

Advance Parole: In order to travel and return to the U.S. while an affirmative asylum case is pending, you need Advance Parole (people with a defensive asylum case--in Immigration Court--cannot travel and return, even with AP). The procedure to obtain AP is slow, unpredictable, and expensive. Worse, USCIS can deny an application for AP if the asylum seeker does not provide an adequate "humanitarian" reason for the travel. This is all ridiculous. Given that many asylum cases stretch for years, asylum seekers sometimes need to travel. The process for obtaining AP should be simplified and made more predictable. Also, the definition of "humanitarian" reason should be expanded so that it is much easier to meet this requirement.

Now let's discuss the benefits available to people who have been granted asylum--

I-730 Process: After an applicant wins asylum, she is eligible to bring her spouse and minor unmarried children to the United States. However, this process--which used to be relatively quick--now takes one or two years, or more. Asylee dependents should receive higher priority from USCIS and the State Department, so they can come to the United States more quickly. This is particularly important since most asylum seekers have already waited years for their case to be adjudicated.

Refugee Travel Document or RTD: After a person receives asylum, he can apply for a Refugee Travel Document, which functions like a passport. Currently, it can take six months or a year to receive the RTD, and it is only valid for one year. There is no reason it should take so long to get an RTD, and no reason to limit the document's validity to one year. There was a proposal in 2005 to extend the RTD's validity to 10 years, which makes sense given that asylees need that document until they are eligible for a U.S. passport (at a minimum, five or six years after they receive asylum).

Green Card: Asylees can generally apply for a Green Card one year after asylum is granted. They complete the same form as anyone else seeking a Green Card, and they often have to wait one or two years, or more, to receive the card. Sometimes, they are interviewed for the Green Card; other times, they are not. Why not simplify this process? USCIS can initiate an automatic background check after one year of asylum, and then--assuming nothing adverse comes up--issue the Green Card.

The asylum process is a mess, but there are steps that the U.S. government can take to make aspects of the process easier. I am hopeful that we will see some positive reforms from the Biden Administration in the coming months, but we will also have to keep pushing for the changes that we need.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: