The federal government has proposed two asylum-related rule changes that would be detrimental to the mental health and overall well-being of asylum seekers and Maine communities at large if implemented.

After filing for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, asylum seekers currently must wait 150 days to apply for a work permit.

The first rule change would require asylum seekers to wait 365 days to apply for a work permit after filing for asylum, more than doubling the time period in which individuals and families are banned from participating in the workforce. The second rule change calls for a first-ever fee of $490 for an initial work permit application for asylum seekers. These two regulations would have serious consequences, affecting the mental health of individuals and families and simultaneously limiting the economic potential of communities in Maine.

In response to a heightened need for work permit application assistance, Hope Acts, a Portland nonprofit dedicated to supporting asylum seekers in transitioning to life in the Portland area, has recently created programming designed specifically to support asylum seekers in this complicated process. Consequently, the agency and volunteers like me have gained substantial insight into many asylum seekers’ genuine motivation to secure employment and the existing barriers to achieving that goal.

Research indicates that many asylum seekers in the U.S. experienced extreme levels of trauma during the premigratory and migratory processes, and are susceptible to resulting mental health complications  Further evidence suggests that some environmental and behavioral factors help alleviate these issues. Swift entry into the workforce promotes mental health by facilitating community involvement and stability for those affected by significant histories of trauma. It is evident that most Portland-area asylum seekers recognize the benefits to joining the workforce and are eager to implement this structure into their daily lives. It is unjust to further prevent those who have experienced the extreme disruption of fleeing violence from gaining the financial and mental constancy of employment.

Additionally, a significant body of research indicates that governmental infrastructure promoting quick workforce entry is economically beneficial to the communities of asylum seekers overall. Gov. Mills noted this in her July statement regarding the future of Maine’s economy as a result of embracing an influx of recently arrived asylum seekers. In limiting the number of people eligible for workforce participation, the federal government’s rule proposals would directly affect the economic potential of Maine communities.

Given the benefits to both asylum-seeking families and Maine communities generally as a result of expedited workforce eligibility, the administration’s rule changes must be opposed. These potential regulations are counter to the mental and emotional well-being of many who have already been subject to inhumane conditions and unjust processes at the administration’s hands.

It is critical that Mainers defend their neighbors and communities and vocally oppose these excessive federal proposals. The deadline to comment on the proposed $490 work permit application fee is Monday at 11:59 p.m., online or postmarked. Visit regulations.gov/comment?D=USCIS-2019-0010-0001.

Mailed comments must reference USCIS, DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. They may be addressed to: Samantha Deshommes, chief, Regulatory Coordination Division, Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 20 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Mailstop 2140, Washington, DC 20529-2140.

The deadline to comment on the proposal to delay work permits is Jan. 13 at 11:59 p.m., online or postmarked. Visit regulations.gov/comment?D=USCIS-2019-0011-0001. Mailed comments must reference USCIS, DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0011.

The employees and volunteers at Hope Acts are privileged to witness the enthusiasm expressed by asylum-seeking individuals and families as they break down the existing barriers of obtaining a work permit. Increasing these barriers would be an egregious violation of just immigration policy.

 


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