Persons granted US asylum can lawfully work in the United States. An applicant for asylum in the US can get a work permit, formally called an Employment Authorization Document, from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after their asylum application has been pending with USCIS or with a judge in immigration court for 180 days. This is a welcome benefit for many asylum seekers, as it can sometimes take a very long time to adjudicate an asylum application. A lack of ability to work while one's application for asylum is pending with USCIS or an immigration judge in immigration court would create significant financial difficulties for many asylum applicants. The way in which the 180 day asylum work permit clock operates is, unfortunately, murky. Confusion among asylum seekers exists concerning stoppages in time for purposes of the asylum work permit clock. This article explains how the 180 day clock works for an asylum applicant seeking an immigration work permit. Procedures employed by the US immigration authorities change often, as can US immigration law generally – we recommend consulting an asylum attorney for assistance with all asylum matters, including with seeking an asylum work permit. A Dallas immigration lawyer with the law firm Heartland Immigration can assist you in your asylum issue no matter where you are located. Contact Heartland Immigration today for a free immigration consultation: 1-855-USA-IMMIGRATE
How to get a work permit as an asylum seeker
A person seeking asylum in the US does not automatically get the right to work in the US, but rather can get an Employment Authorization Document (work permit) if their asylum application is not adjudicated within 180 days of the application for asylum being submitted. This usually is not necessary, because USCIS is supposed to rule on an asylum application within 180 days, and an immigration judge in immigration court usually rules on an asylum application much faster (to learn more about the differences between applying for asylum affirmatively with USCIS and defensively in immigration court in the deportation context, you should speak with an asylum attorney). But sometimes, for various reasons, a decision on an application for US asylum is not made within that 180 window. In these cases, US immigration law allows a person seeking asylum in the US to get a work permit so they can work legally in the United States at least until their asylum application is ruled upon – a grant of US asylum allows the asylum seeker to work legally, as where a denial of the application for asylum means the asylum applicant cannot work (or at least not on the basis of the pending asylum application – asylum seekers may qualify on other grounds in some cases for an Employment Authorization Document; an asylum attorney can tell you more about this issue).
A person seeking asylum whose asylum application has been pending for 150 days can apply for an immigration work permit by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with USCIS. It is important to note that while the work permit will not be granted until the asylum applicant's asylum application has been pending for 180 days, the application can be filed when the asylum application has been pending for 150 days. Persons seeking US asylum who want to get a work permit while their asylum application is under consideration are strongly encouraged to apply for the Employment Authorization Document at 150 days rather than waiting any longer, as it can take USCIS up to 30 days to rule on this work permit application.
Reasons the 180 day asylum work permit clock can be stopped
It is not always the case that a person seeking US asylum can qualify for a work permit after 180 calendar days have passed since the time they filed their asylum application. US immigration law provides that the 180 day clock can be stopped for multiple reasons. Because of this, it may actually take an asylum seeker much longer than 180 actual days to be eligible for the work permit based on their pending asylum application. US immigration law defines some instances where the 180 day clock stops and what kind of actions can make it resume, but the application of relevant laws and regulations by US immigration authorities has been inconsistent and, as more than one asylum attorney has noted, possibly at odds with US immigration law.
Examples of when the 180 clock will be "tolled" (i.e., stopped) include:
Failure of the asylum applicant to, without "good cause," meet the requirement related to USCIS fingerprinting
Delay in responding to a request for evidence related to the asylum application
Failing to show up to receive the decision on an asylum application by an asylum officer
Where USCIS or an immigration judge request that the asylum applicant amend or supplement their asylum application
In the deportation context, where the immigration judge in immigration court orders at the master calendar hearing that the individual appear at another master calendar hearing, instead of scheduling an individual hearing
Also in the deportation setting, where the asylum applicant contests the government's claim that the person is removable or files for a form of relief from deportation other than asylum
Where the asylum seeker is in immigration court facing deportation charges, declining to take the earliest offered hearing date. This stops the clock where a clerk of the court offers the asylum applicant or their asylum attorney two dates on which the asylum seeker can appear in immigration court and the asylum applicant or their asylum attorney opt for the later date. That this stops the 180 day clock comes to the surprise, in most cases, of both the asylum applicant and the asylum attorney.
In these cases, the clock stops but resumes again once the asylum applicant does what the immigration authorities are requesting. In contrast, the 180 day clock permanently stops if an asylum seeker fails to appear for a hearing before a USCIS asylum officer or an immigration judge in immigration court, unless the applicant for asylum can show that their non-appearance was due to "exceptional circumstances."
It is worth pointing out that while a denial of an asylum application stops the 180 day work permit clock (and indeed means no work permit can be issued on the basis of the pending asylum application), a referral of an application for asylum by a USCIS asylum officer to an immigration judge in immigration court does not have the same effect. The referral of an asylum application to an immigration court by a USCIS asylum officer does not stop the 180 day asylum work permit clock.
Persons who have applied for asylum and who want to get a work permit should consult an asylum attorney – an asylum attorney can help you ensure that the 180 day clock is running and may be able to come up with a strategy to restart the clock if it has been stopped. No matter where you live, an asylum attorney with Heartland Immigration can represent you in your asylum matter. Contact a Heartland Immigration asylum lawyer today for an immigration lawyer free consultation – call us today to speak with an immigration lawyer about your immigration situation: 1-855-USA-IMMIGRATE