RILA Helps Asylum Seekers Get to Work

Did you know that asylum seekers are entitled to receive a work permit six months after they apply for asylum? Receiving a work permit, also known as an Employment Authorization Document or “EAD”, is a life-changing milestone for our clients. It enables them to work legally in safe and dignified jobs, and provides them some protection against labor exploitation. While their asylum application is pending, they can provide for their families and hopefully even save some money. A work permit also serves as a valid, U.S. government-issued photo ID, and it can enable asylum applicants to get a drivers’ license!

RILA can submit a client’s EAD application five months after their asylum application. We use a case tracking database to keep track of when our clients are eligible to apply for an EAD. When we see that a client is close to nearing the five-month mark, we schedule that client and their family members to come in to a clinic and complete the EAD paperwork. Emily Smith, RILA’s Legal Advocate, prepares the clients’ EAD application for them to sign. We are especially grateful to several of our talented volunteers – especially David, Kaitlin, and Marlee – who are able to work through these forms in Spanish with our clients! After submitting the paperwork, we typically find that clients receive their EAD card in about four to six weeks. When clients receive an EAD, they also receive a social security number.

Also, RILA now is in a position now where many of our earliest clients need to renew their EAD. The first time a client receives an EAD, there is no fee, but in order to renew it, there is a fee of $410 per person, which is a significant expense, even for clients that have stable employment. Our clients can qualify for a fee-waiver, but this is an additional form that we’re learning how to complete. It requires income documentation that can prove challenging for some clients to provide. This has been a significant focus for our legal team in the month of June, and it will remain a project throughout the summer, as we add extra EAD appointments to our clinics in order to process these renewals.

Despite these challenges, RILA is always so glad to see the smile on a client’s face when we’re able to hand them their long-awaited EAD!

Heather Hall