Sens. Susan Collins and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., introduced legislation Thursday to shorten the waiting period before asylum seekers are allowed to receive work authorizations.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King, would reduce the waiting period for work authorization eligibility to 30 days after an application for asylum is filed. It comes shortly after Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced a similar proposal in the House.

“The law currently prohibits asylum seekers from working for extended periods of time, which prevents them from supporting themselves and their families as they want to do. It also inadvertently places the burden of care on states and municipalities,” Collins, a Republican, said in a news release.

The bill comes as Maine is seeing an influx of asylum seekers to Portland, many of whom are being housed in hotels paid for with state and federal funds because of a lack of shelter space and available housing. For the week ending Feb. 5, Portland was housing 189 families, a total of 639 people, in hotels.

“Our bipartisan legislation would permit these individuals to work and contribute to the local economy while their asylum claims are being adjudicated,” Collins said. “This commonsense bill would help cities like Portland and their partners in the nonprofit community that are currently caring for a large number of asylum seekers.”

In 2020, former President Donald Trump introduced a rule extending the amount of time asylum seekers had to wait to apply for work authorization, from 150 days to 365 days. A federal court earlier this month vacated the Trump administration rule, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said that it has ceased applying the rule to asylum applicants.


Advocates for asylum seekers have said, however, that even the 150-day waiting period is too long.

“Maine has always welcomed asylum seekers, who have made our communities stronger and richer – but current federal laws are blocking these people from pursuing a job to help them support their families and contribute to their local economies,” said King, an independent, in the release issued by Collins’ office.

He said the extended waiting period not only is blocking asylum seekers from earning paychecks and supporting their families but it is limiting the worker pool for businesses and increasing the financial burden on municipal governments.

“With the economic recovery story in full swing, now is the time to shorten the waiting period for asylum seekers who are looking for employment opportunities,” King said.

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