Most immigrants with recently expired or soon-to-expire work permits will be able to continue working on those documents for up to a year and a half after they expire under a new policy announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Tuesday.
The policy, which will take effect beginning Wednesday, is meant to address the unprecedented backlog of 1.5 million work-permit applications at the nation’s legal-immigration agency, leaving tens of thousands unable to work legally and exacerbating labor shortages.
The change will immediately help about 87,000 immigrants whose work authorization has lapsed or is set to in the next 30 days. Overall, the government estimates that as many as 420,000 immigrants renewing work permits will be protected from losing their ability to work for the duration of the policy.
“We need time to get back to normal or better than normal on our processing times, and no one should lose their ability to work because we need that extra time,” a USCIS official said.
Millions of immigrants in the U.S. are eligible for work permits, including applicants for green cards and asylum, spouses of H-1B visa holders, and Dreamers who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They are employed across the gamut of industries, from technology to healthcare to truck driving, and their absence has been felt by employers already struggling to hire enough people to fill America’s 11.5 million open jobs.
Jon Baselice, vice president of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said employers would welcome the announcement. “Many companies with staffing issues have let good workers go simply because of these significant processing backlogs, exacerbating their workforce problems,” he said.
Immigrants eligible to renew their work permits can file for that renewal six months before their documents formally expire. Typically, most—though not all—work permits remain valid for 180 days past their official expiration date, a protection the government built into the process years ago to ensure that a person’s work authorization would never lapse, even with government delays.