Jan 23, 2024 - News

More migrants receive permits to legally work in Chicago

Migrants outside, wearing winter clothes with a Chicago police car.

Migrants wait in the landing zone for spots to open in the city's 28 crowded shelters. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 1,000 new arrivals in Chicago have obtained work permits roughly four months after the Biden administration expanded eligibility to nearly a half-million more Venezuelans.

Why it matters: Paths to self-sufficiency are even more crucial now that the city has issued thousands of 60-day eviction notices to migrants in shelters and stopped opening new spaces under Mayor Brandon Johnson's new plan.

State of play: Gov. JB Pritzker expressed concern Monday over the plan, especially the lack of city input on where the state should locate new shelters.

  • "We can't help if they don't identify those locations," Pritzker said at an unrelated event Monday, according to the Tribune.

By the numbers: In November, Illinois officials identified nearly 4,650 individuals in Chicago shelters who probably qualify for either work permits (Employment Authorization Documents, or EADs) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which can confer work eligibility after 30 days.

  • City figures show that roughly 2,200 applications have been processed (almost half EADs, half TPS) so far, with 916 work permits received.

The intrigue: Federal officials tell Axios that number is much higher. They say they've approved more than 1,800 work permits filed from state-run sign-up clinics in Chicago.

Between the lines: Turnaround times for permit approvals, which previously took months, have sped up to 30 days or less, according to state officials.

Yes, but: Originally, state officials thought about half of Chicago's shelter residents would qualify for TPS or EADs, similar to New York City's totals. After closer screenings, the estimate has dropped to about 30%, they tell Axios.

  • That means about 70% of shelter residents, or more than 10,000 people, lack immediate legal pathways to self-sufficiency.

What they're saying: Remaining options include seeking a work permit five months after applying for asylum, qualifying for a visa as a victim of trafficking, or applying as a close relative of a citizen, Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights tells Axios.

  • President Biden could also expand TPS to a wider population of migrants, as he did in September. But Tsao notes that Congress is currently moving in the opposite direction, "considering limitations on those powers in the immigration enforcement for overseas war funding negotiations."

What's ahead: State officials say their clinics will continue helping shelter residents apply for permits. They plan to open appointments for eligible applicants in the community next month.

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