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New US Rule Grants Automatic Work Permit Extensions to Noncitizens

A Customs and Border Protection agent collects biographical information from a group of Venezuelan migrants before taking them into custody near the southern border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, April 25, 2022.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Tuesday that it would automatically extend for 360 days the work permits of immigrants who applied to renew their work authorization amid the current backlog in processing times.

The new notice expands on the 180-day extension USCIS announced in November. It is expected to prevent about 260,000 immigrants from losing their work permits in the next 18 months. It will also give the agency extra time to clear applicants waiting in line, the agency said in a statement.

"This temporary rule will provide those noncitizens otherwise eligible for the automatic extension an opportunity to maintain employment and provide critical support for their families while avoiding further disruption for U.S. employers," USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said in a statement.

The extension, which takes effect Wednesday, aims to stabilize operations for U.S. employers and help people with pending employment authorizations who have a job and are working in the U.S.

USCIS is the agency in charge of handling the nation's immigration paperwork. In recent years, it has struggled with backlogs, an issue made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and budget shortfalls.

In April, Jaddou told U.S. government officials during a congressional hearing that USCIS had 8.5 million pending immigration cases, including those seeking green cards and U.S. naturalization.

She said more than half of those pending cases were taking longer than the agency's normal processing times.

Asylum-seekers, immigrants adjusting their status to permanent residence and other noncitizens going through the U.S. immigration process are among the noncitizens affected by the latest work authorization extension.

The agency had reported that processing times for asylum applicants looking to renew work permits increased from seven months in 2017 to 11 months in 2021.

In March, USCIS announced a program to reduce backlogs, including the expansion of premium processing for certain applications where applicants could pay a higher fee to expedite paperwork processing.

According to the USCIS, most of the announced changes simply restore options offered before the Trump administration's slowdown of USCIS processing and before the COVID-19 pandemic further slowed the agency's resources.

"For several years, USCIS has been in a precarious financial situation that has impaired the efficient completion of caseloads. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges in 2020, in addition to a hiring freeze and furlough threat leading to workforce attrition and severely reduced capacity. In 2021, before USCIS could recover from these fiscal and operational impacts, there was a sudden and dramatic increase in EAD (Employment Authorization Document) initial and renewal filings," according to the USCIS statement.

The USCIS historically has been underfunded because most of the agency's funding comes from application fees that have stalled at $5 billion a year since 2019.