Refugees and those granted asylum may now renew their work permits in two-year increments rather than having to renew annually, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Monday in an effort to address lengthy processing delays.
The USCIS update to its policy manual will affect foreign citizens who have been admitted as refugees or granted asylum. It also will affect those who have self-petitioned for green cards under a program for domestic abuse survivors, as well as certain migrants who fled persecution and have since been provided deportation relief known as withholding of removal.
The change would also allow some immigrants with temporary deportation protections to have work permits that remain valid until their protections expire.
The update, which will not affect work permits issued before Monday, was made “in the interest of reducing the burden on both the agency and the public,” according to the agency’s policy alert.
USCIS spokesperson Matt Bourke said the change “is expected to reduce processing times and allow USCIS to concentrate efforts on its pending [employment authorization document] application caseload.”
He also highlighted other changes the agency has made to reduce the backlog, such as sparing the spouses of certain visa holders from having to apply for their own work authorization documents and exempting more people from fingerprinting requirements.
“These steps are just the beginning and USCIS will continue to work with urgency to bring down processing times across the board,” he continued.
Leidy Perez-Davis, policy director at the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, called the change “a step in the right direction for those categories that are suffering through the work permit renewal,” especially for those with protections under withholding of removal.
“It does not, however, address the immediate need of those currently waiting for their work permit to be renewed, but will allow people more time in between filings for renewals,” she said by email.
The change comes in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s request for public feedback on how to improve the legal immigration system, including by making it more efficient and accessible. The April request for input was issued following President Joe Biden’s February 2021 executive order calling to restore faith in the U.S. immigration system.
The change also comes as USCIS faces severe processing delays that have left foreign citizens waiting months or longer for their work permits to be renewed or approved — and caused some to lose their jobs in the meantime.
USCIS Director Ur Jaddou addressed the backlogs and processing delays during a stakeholder briefing last week, insisting that every foreign citizen who applies for an immigration benefit “is entitled to a timely decision, be it yes or no.”
“Let me be very clear. Our processing times are too long. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” she said.
Jaddou also pledged to increase staffing, including by hiring nearly 200 new employees in the agency’s asylum division to focus on reducing the backlog.