‘Pretty unsettled’: Month-long processing delays put people out of work amid nationwide labor shortage

Vera de Aponte, a registered behavioral technician for children with special needs in Florida, had to leave her job this month when her work permit allowing her to work legally in the United States expired. . Her family has since adjusted their vacation plans, including no longer flying to her mother-in-law, because of financial concerns.

“I had to talk to my daughter about the situation. … It’s not in my hands. It’s frustrating, and how am I supposed to explain it to her? I can’t buy Christmas presents for her. children for fear of spending money,” Vera de Aponte, who is applying for political asylum in the US, told CNN in Spanish.

According to Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney representing the company, an IT company lost five employees this year because their work permits were not renewed, making it impossible for them to work legally in the United States. . The business, which has about 1,000 employees, declined to be named because of privacy concerns.

While three of those employees have had their contracts renewed, the incident is emblematic of a company exploiting the issue across the country. “There are huge concerns that this will continue to happen,” Fresco said.

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The limited supply of workers has stymied U.S. companies and is at risk exacerbated by immigrants’ inability to keep their jobs because they can’t work legally until their permits are renewed. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which adjudicates and approves work permits, says there is an unprecedented backlog of 1.4 million pending work permit applications, including initial and renewal application.

USCIS doesn’t have specifics on how many of those permits have expired due to the backlog, but an agency official told CNN it’s heard from those affected about the matter. this.

“We’re listening from companies. We’re listening from nonprofits. We’re listening from hospitals. And we’re hearing directly from affected individuals.” this official said. “We are very aware of the problem from the top to the level of the agency and department.”

Some immigrants, including asylum seekers, are allowed to work in the US while their cases are pending – a process that often takes years to complete – and they are required to join renew such licenses on a regular basis.

But if not renewed, the work permit will lapse, leaving the employer with no choice but to force quit even if there is a shortage of workers.

“The severe labor shortage is unprecedented,” said Gad Levanon, vice president of labor markets at The Conference Board, a business membership consultancy. “When labor shortages are so severe, any additional factors that are pulling people out of the labor market are more noticeable.”

National Business Economics Association found that almost half (47%) respondents to the recent Business Conditions Survey reported a shortage of skilled workers in the third quarter, up from 32% who reported shortages in the second quarter of the year.

“If the labor market is normal, then these companies will easily replace those that have lost their work permits,” added Levanon. “Now, it’s much harder to find a qualified worker to replace.”

Jon Baselice, Vice President for Immigration Policy at the American Chamber of Commerce, who often hears from companies concerned about processing issues, said the months-long delay in permit renewals labor has caused “difficulty” for companies.

“It’s quite annoying,” he said. “You’re talking about a situation where a company can’t retain an employee at least for the short term because of lack of paperwork.”

For those employees, waiting for the usual paperwork means putting aside plans and worrying about family finances.

Abelardo Rios, a Florida-based telecoms technician, was suspended from his job last week. Rios, who is applying for political asylum in the US, applied for an extension in February, three months before his work permit expired. He is still waiting.

“We don’t have any benefits, no health insurance. They’ve kept their positions, but my family doesn’t have benefits right now,” Rios told CNN in Spanish.

One of the hardest parts of the challenge for Rios, who is the sole provider of services to his wife and 17-year-old daughter, was that he had no choice but to find another job. He cannot work until his request for an extension is approved, as has been many times before.

According to Leidy Perez-Davis, policy director of the Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project, in recent weeks, the Refugee Advocacy Project has received hundreds of requests from people who say work permits Theirs has expired or is about to expire. They include doctors and specialists who took care of patients at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, engineers and long-distance truck drivers, among others.

Asylum Advocacy Project, together with the American Immigration Council and Lakin & Wille LLP, filed a lawsuit this month challenged the “unreasonable delay” in renewing work permits for asylum seekers. Vera de Aponte is a named plaintiff in the ASAP lawsuit.
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Work permits for asylum seekers are usually valid for two years. Applicants can apply for an extension while their asylum application is pending. If they apply before their license expires, they can get an automatic 180-day extension of their current license. However, in some cases, processing takes longer than that timeframe, leaving asylum seekers in limbo.

USCIS, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, has faced huge backlogs across the board due to the coronavirus pandemic and, one official argued, mismanagement under the previous administration led to a million cases including unopened categories January.

Since then, the Biden administration has addressed various backlogs at USCIS through policy changes, overtime pay and efforts to attract more staff, the official said. But while USCIS is trying to streamline operations to deal with delays, USCIS is doing the same at a time when it is working to provide work permits to tens of thousands of early Afghans. spread, causing strain on already overloaded resources.

“We take very seriously the human consequences of people becoming incapacitated when it’s something they don’t have a legal reason for not being eligible for, and so that’s why we I’m focused on fixing it,” the official said.

Heghine Muradyan, a California doctor who has treated hundreds of patients during the Covid-19 pandemic, lost her job in October when her work permit failed to arrive on time. It was approved this week, but she is still waiting for a permit to return to work. Muradyan, an asylum seeker and named plaintiff in the ASAP lawsuit, has spent the past few weeks worrying that she will lose her license to practice medicine if she doesn’t return to work soon.

Uncertainty about what happens next still hangs over others.

Biraj Nepal, a software engineer, regularly receives warnings from human resources that his work permit will expire in January, a reminder that he is about to lose his job.

“We feel this country is our home,” said the Nepali, who has a 4-year-old daughter and a baby along the way. “But we are living in constant fear and anxiety because we don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow.”


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