Tampa Bay immigrants get relief from new federal work rule

TAMPA — Luis Quintero was worried.

A 46-year-old Venezuelan immigrant and father of two, Quintero is in the United States on work authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and his permit was due to expire on May 19. A backlog in processing extensions caused some immigrants like Quintero to lose their jobs.

Then Quintero received news that helped reassure him: his work permit would be automatically extended.

The citizenship and immigration agency earlier this month announced a so-called temporary final rule that increases the extension period of certain work permits, known as employment authorization documents, to up to 540 days. from the expiry date.

“It seems like good news for working families who have come to this country looking for a better future,” said Quintero, who works as a technician at eSmart Recycling in Tampa.

The agency had granted a renewal extension of 180 days, but it was not enough to process all the documents in time. The government attributes the backlog to the coronavirus pandemic, a budget deficit and a lack of staff.

The new rule will avoid employment gaps for non-citizens with pending license renewal applications and help employers who hire non-citizens, the immigration agency said in a news release earlier this week. month.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the agency grew from 5.7 million applications at the end of fiscal year 2019 to around 9.5 million in February.

The new rule, which went into effect May 4, applies to certain applicants who were already eligible for an automatic extension and submitted their I-765 renewal application on time. These applicants include holders of temporary protected status, asylum seekers, green card applicants and refugees.

After October 26, 2023, the agency plans to return to automatic 180-day extensions.

Carlos Bohorquez paid $410 and submitted his Form I-765 last year, but then had to wait six months for his new license which will now expire in 2024. Bohorquez, 38, fled turmoil in Venezuela for Orlando he seven years ago and moved to Tampa. two years later.

Despite the hardships Bohorquez and his family endured, he welcomed the extension.

“For me, it’s just political negligence, but I hope that a definitive solution will be found for the current cases,” said Bohorquez, assistant television producer and freelance journalist.

The government’s schedule will allow the federal agency to address staffing shortages, increase efficiency and speed up access to employment authorization documents. Unlike most government agencies, the Citizenship and Immigration Agency is funded almost entirely by user fees.

Tampa immigration attorney Paul Palacios said the automatic extension “comes small consolation.” Thousands of applicants have already lost their jobs and may not be able to return, he said.

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Palacios said the agency won’t reissue notices with the new extensions, leaving applicants to convince employers that their work permits are valid. A work permit also allows immigrants to have access to certain advantages, such as the renewal of the driver’s license.

“Without a notice from the government granting them the additional extension, it may be difficult,” Palacios said.

Living without legal status makes it harder to stay financially above water, according to a bilingual online survey of 3,375 Latinos in the United States conducted by the Pew Research Center last year.

Javier Torres, executive director of the Migrant Foundation, a local immigrant advocacy group, applauded the decision to extend the employment authorization period. However, Torres said the measure comes too late for some.

“Other immigrants were no longer being called back to work, even with these extensions,” Torres said.

Torres said he knows of several cases of families who have lost more than $12,000 in income without being able to work for several months.

“Our community has suffered,” he said.

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