October 25, 2023
For Immediate Release: October 25, 2023
Maine Dept. of Labor Requests Waiver from Federal Government to Allow Asylum Seekers to Work Sooner
AUGUSTA - The Maine Department of Labor today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requesting a waiver from provisions under the Immigration and Nationality Act that prohibit an applicant for asylum from being eligible to seek employment in the United States for 180 days after the applicant has filed their initial asylum claim.
The request is the result of a resolve passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Janet Mills directing the Maine Department of Labor to seek such a waiver.
The letter reads as follows:
The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas Secretary of Homeland Security Washington, DC 20528
Ms. Ur Mendoza Jaddou Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 5900 Capital Gateway Drive Camp Springs, MD 20588
October 25, 2023
Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Director Jaddou:
The State of Maine is requesting a waiver from provisions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 8 U.S.C 1158 (d)(2) that prohibit an applicant for asylum from being eligible to seek employment in the United States for 180 days after the applicant has filed their initial asylum claim.
This request comes after the Maine State Legislature passed and Governor Janet Mills signed a resolve directing the Maine Department of Labor to seek such a waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
As you may be aware, like many states across the nation, Maine has experienced multiple surges of individuals seeking asylum. While Maine is a welcoming state, these surges are straining municipal and State budgets and stretching already too scarce housing resources even thinner.
The State has responded by working in partnership with municipalities, MaineHousing, local nonprofit and development organizations, the State Legislature, and Maine's Congressional Delegation to support Maine towns and cities as they transition immigrants into Maine's communities and workforce. These efforts have included improving reimbursement to municipalities through the General Assistance program; supporting long-term safety and security for immigrants by funding frontline organizations that support people seeking asylum; establishing temporary, transitional, and permanent housing for people seeking asylum; and supporting services provided by government and many non-governmental partners. Attached you will find a more comprehensive list of the actions the State of Maine has taken.
Federal constraints namely the restriction on the ability to more immediately work forces the State and municipalities to confront this tremendous hardship a hardship that the State believes is not necessary given the strong desire that people seeking asylum have to work and contribute to society.
Further, with unemployment in Maine at record lows, and with our economic growth among the best in the nation, Maine faces a need for workers across regions, professions, and skill levels, especially in critical sectors such as health care, education, and construction. In fact, Maine is projected to have a total of 750,000 job openings in the decade through 2030. Attracting new workers is a priority for Maines economic future, and the States 10-year Economic Strategy sets a target of attracting 75,000 new workers, from within and outside of Maine, by 2029.
By allowing asylum seekers to work earlier, the State believes that we can begin to address and mitigate the financial and other resource-based issues the State and municipalities face while tackling our workforce shortage and fulfilling the dream of asylum seekers to stand on their own and contribute to our society.
This approach is consistent with the goal of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023, legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Collins and King and Representative Pingree, which would enable asylum seekers to receive work authorization on a faster timetable. The U.S. Chamber of Congress recently endorsed this bill.
Therefore, the State of Maine respectfully requests that the Biden Administration consider identifying laws and/or utilizing Executive action that will allow asylum seekers to work sooner than 180 days. Through that process, the State of Maine hopes that DHS and USCIS can consider approval of this waiver request to provide a tremendous boost to Maine's workforce and economy now and into the future.
In the meantime, the State will continue to evaluate what options it may take to integrate people seeking asylum into our communities and our workforce given existing Federal constraints. The Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future in response to an Executive Order issued by Governor Mills in August 2023 is developing a plan to create the Office of New Americans in Maine State Government to undertake better and long-term planning to integrate the arrival of new Americans into Maine.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Respectfully, Laura A. Fortman Commissioner of Labor State of Maine