Can Asylum Applicants Get a Work Permit?

If you're applying for asylum in the U.S., you might have to wait until you're granted asylum before you qualify for a work permit, or navigate some complicated immigration rules.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

For many years, anyone who applied for asylum in the United States qualified for a work permit (an employment authorization document or EAD) immediately. However, that is no longer the case. Efforts to combat frivolously filed asylum applications led to an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, which now make it quite difficult for someone fleeing persecution to obtain the right to work in the United States. The only sure way to get a work permit is to be granted asylum!

Below are the situations in which someone still in the process of applying for asylum will become eligible to apply for an EAD.

EAD Eligibility Based on Winning Asylum

If you are granted asylum in the United States, you will become instantly eligible to submit an application for a U.S. work permit. However, gaining asylum approval might not happen for weeks, months, or even years. (For more information on the application process, see How to Get Asylum In The U.S.)

After you first submit your application for asylum (assuming you apply affirmatively, meaning on your own rather than after being placed in removal proceedings), your case will be heard by the Asylum Office. This could possibly take place within a matter of weeks. If you are granted asylum at that time, great; but many deserving asylum applicants are not, so be emotionally ready for this possibility.

Instead, assuming the asylum applicant has no other right to be in the United States, the case gets referred to the immigration court system, for removal proceedings. The applicant is scheduled for a master calendar hearing a few weeks into the future. But that hearing is only to set another date, even further into the future, for the individual, merits hearing on the asylum claim. And if that hearing does not finish on the same day it starts, it could be continued to another date, many more weeks or months into the future.

At last, the immigration judge (IJ) will finish hearing your testimony and considering your witnesses and documents. (And you will be cross-examined by an attorney for the U.S. government.) The IJ will make a decision on your case.

If the IJ grants asylum, you can apply for a work permit after that. But the IJ might be unconvinced, and deny asylum. Again, this happens to many perfectly deserving asylum applicants. You would then need to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which all too often accepts the immigration judge's decision. More months or years will go by.

You can then appeal to the federal court in your circuit, and after that possibly even to the Supreme Court of the United States (though it only chooses a few cases to hear each year). By this time, many years will have gone by; all without a right to work in the United States.

EAD Eligibility Based on Passage of 150 Days With No Decision on Your Asylum Application

People who apply for asylum might be able to obtain work authorization if 150 days have passed after they filed their application with no decision on their case from USCIS or the IJ. This comes from Section 208(d)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) or 8 U.S.C.A. § 1158(d)(2); and 8 C.F.R. § 208.7(a).

If you cause any delays in the course of your asylum case, however, such as failing to provide required paperwork or asking for a postponement, and those delays are not resolved by the time you apply for work authorization, you will also be denied an EAD.

See an Attorney

Applying for asylum is complex and difficult, and is best done with a lawyer's help. The lawyer can also help monitor your progress toward qualifying for an EAD.

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