Nov 16, 2023 - News

Migrant work permits still scarce in Chicago since protections expanded

Migrants set up tents near the overflowing 17th district police station in Albany Park. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Only a "small percentage" of Venezuelan migrants in the Chicago area have applied for work permits since the Biden administration expanded temporary protections nearly two months ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Why it matters: State and local officials had been urging the move for months so migrants could start working sooner, which in turn could alleviate strain on shelters and resources.

Catch up fast: Biden announced in September that DHS would extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan migrants who had arrived in the country by July 31, 2023.

  • The order made an estimated 472,000 Venezuelan migrants in the U.S. — 11,000 in Chicago — eligible to apply for work permits called EADs.
  • But nearly two months later, it's unclear how many have been approved.

What they're saying: DHS officials confirmed to Axios that permits have been issued since the announcement, but declined to share the number.

  • The agency says it's worked to address the lack of applications by sending more than 1 million email and text notifications to eligible migrants in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, a coalition of city, state, and federal officials launched last week a work permit clinic at an undisclosed Chicago-area location to help migrants navigate the sign-up process.

  • The aim was to get 150 people signed up each day. As of yesterday, they had submitted 160 applications, according to state officials.

How it works: To obtain a work permit, applicants must file a Form I-765 and pay a $410 application fee, unless they receive a waiver.

  • They must also present an arrival and departure record called an I-94 as well as a passport or other travel documents and two identical passport photos.
  • DHS officials say the median processing time for these applications is 90 days. They hope to cut that to 30 days but tell Axios they're not there yet.

Between the lines: The simple answer for the paucity of new EADs may lie in approval delays at the federal level and a fairly recent start to the process.

  • Despite the Sept. 20 announcement, DHS officials say they only started taking applications for TPS and EADs under the expanded criteria on Oct. 3.
  • Other barriers include high application fees—which Chicago has asked the feds to waive— and, for some, a lack of any form of government ID.
  • "Many have their passports taken away at the border or lost during transit," Rachel Otwell at the Illinois Department of Human Services tells Axios.

What we're watching: Otwell says the clinic is aiming to file applications for all 11,000 of the eligible migrants in the area by mid-February and to reach others who they believe might not be currently in the system.

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