Sep 6, 2023 - News

Work permit delays exacerbate Massachusetts' migrant crisis

Illustration of a snail stamp on a folder.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Thousands of migrants continue languishing in Massachusetts' emergency family shelter system, in part because of monthslong delays for federal work permits.

Why it matters: Without the green light to legally work, migrants can't save up money to transition out of shelters.

  • This creates a bottleneck as more families arrive seeking help, and it's a scenario playing out across the country, as Steph reported with Axios' Monica Eng, Stef Kight and Caitlin Owens.

What's happening: Federal law requires asylum seekers to wait at least 180 days for a permit, but some new arrivals are also struggling to get quick legal help with their applications, Susan Church, COO of the state's Office for Refugees and Immigrants, tells Axios.

  • Others face delays because their applications were submitted incorrectly by unlicensed people offering legal advice known as "notarios," Church says.

State of play: Elected leaders nationwide are calling on Congress to pass a law to reduce the 180-day waiting period, while others are asking the Biden administration to step in with executive action. Administration officials, meanwhile, insist they're largely unable to circumvent Congress on the issue.

  • Gov. Maura Healey met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month in Boston and discussed work permits.

Plus: Some migrants have applied for Temporary Protected Status, which lets people fleeing war-torn or disaster-ridden nations live and work legally for two years.

  • Those migrants have also been waiting months for work permits, says the Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, who has helped Haitian migrants in Massachusetts.

Zoom in: The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition recently created a state-funded legal assistance program to help up to 600 migrant families in hotels-turned-shelters with immigration services.

Ye, but: Liz Sweet, the coalition's executive director, tells Axios that their attorneys will reach capacity before the program is over. "It's very clear that there is a real need," she says.

  • "We are unfortunately seeing notario fraud in the shelters, and it is a real concern."

By the numbers: Massachusetts does not have statistics on all the migrants it is hosting, but the housing office estimates it had 6,217 families in the shelter system as of yesterday, more than one-third of whom are migrant families.


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