Immigrants to Get Extension on Expired or Expiring Work Visas Due to Backlog

In early May, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a Temporary Final Rule (TFR) increasing the automatic extension period to immigrants with expiring work visas for hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals working in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said the agency will grant 18-month extensions for those with expired work permits due to a backlog of nearly 1.5 million work permit applications.

In order to swiftly enact the TFR, USCIS utilized the “good cause” exception of the Administrative Procedure Act, allowing the agency to circumvent the standard required public notice and comment period, streamlining the process.

The administration has been working to implement the temporary work authorization since March in an effort to combat current workforce shortages across the country that will become worse as work visas expire. The 18-month extension will be added to a previous 180-day extension that took effect in November 2021 and will end in October 2023.

The automatic extension time begins on the date the employment authorization expires, and the temporary increase for eligible renewal applicants and the date of the renewal application, as follows:

  • Prior to May 4, 2022, and your automatic 180-day extension has expired
  • Prior to May 4, 2022, and your automatic 180-day extension has not yet expired
  • Between and including May 4, 2022, and October 26, 2023

The normal automatic 180-day extension period will apply for all renewal applications submitted after October 26, 2023.

The move will grant USCIS additional time to implement multiple changes to curtail delays and increase staff and processing efficiency, along with a potential program that would process applications in a matter of weeks for immigrants willing to pay a higher fee. Increasing foreign workers’ ability to remain in the United States and continue working reflects the administration’s efforts for immigrants to retain their work permits more easily.

Many of the planned changes are a reinstatement of formerly existing immigration processes that were slowed or eliminated under former President Donald Trump, and further decimation due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The bulk of the historically underfunded agency’s budget – roughly $5 billion annually – comes from application fees. Under the 540-day extension, those with existing applications will not be required to pay a fee for a new work permit and automatic renewals are expected to free up other agency resources to address backlogs in other programs.

Foreign nationals in various different statuses can apply for Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) through USCIS. Over the past decade, processing of applications has slowed dramatically from a few months to over a year in many cases. Such delays have resulted in a large number of foreign workers to lose the authorization to work, even losing jobs due to their employment status and expiration of work permits.

In 2017, DHS implemented a regulation providing an automatic 180-day extension of Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) for certain categories of work permit holders designed to begin when the worker files an extension request. However, the long delays in processing times have been insufficient for those requests, necessitating the addition of additional extension time for processing.

In issuing the TFR extension, USCIS is also making efforts to avoid employment gaps for foreign workers awaiting EAD renewals and simultaneously stabilize operations for American employers.

Who Is Eligible for the Extension?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services identified the rules of eligibility to:

  • All immigrants with lapsed visas will be granted a 180-extention, and those with expired work permits will be provided with an extension for work authorization and valid Employment Authorization Documents
  • Immigrants who are currently in the midst of the previous 180-day extension will be granted an additional 360 days, for a total of 540, and an extension for valid EADs.
  • Workers with a valid EAD who have applied for a work permit renewal will be granted a 540-day extension if the renewal is not completed before the EAD expires

In recent years, USCIS has been served with several lawsuits over delays in application processing that caused many foreign workers to lose their jobs while waiting for their renewed permits. This new extension policy will provide immediate extension for approximately 87,000 workers who have applied for renewals of their permits and are reaching the end of or past the existing 180-day extension period. USCIS also believes the move will result in a speedier processing of the extensions for those not covered by the rule, as they will now be able to prioritize them over those that are already covered.

Work permit holders can apply for renewal up to six months ahead of the expiration date and employers are still encouraged to ensure that employees file as soon as possible to prevent possible overlaps.

Though the extensions provide a sense of security for immigrant workers and employers, those with expired permits may face some challenges even with the extension. Statutorily extended work permits may be problematic for workers needing to verify their right to work for another employer or securing services such as renewing a driver’s license.

Additionally, work permits are separate from other immigration permits, such as travel. Applicants for work permits are not permitted to travel internationally until their applications have been formally processed. The extension applies to a range of applicants, including green cards, asylees and asylum-seekers, those with Temporary Protected Status, and certain spouses of work permit holders.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin P.C. Advocate for Clients Seeking or Renewing Work Permits in the United States

If you or a family member are currently employed by an American business on an expired or soon-to-be expired work permit, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin P.C., are available to assist you in applying for renewal of your work permit. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.