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The ability to work legally in a safe and fair workplace protected by federal regulations is critical for all immigrants applying for legal status. Access to a work permit (also known as work authorization or an EAD) and the ability to work legally helps protect immigrants from trafficking, wage theft, workplace harassment and other exploitative job environments that many immigrants often feel they have no choice but to accept out of a need to support themselves and their families. Work permits empower immigrants to come out of the shadows and find jobs with dignity that can sustain them during the often years-long process of waiting for a decision from the U.S. government after applying for asylum and other humanitarian protections.

Timely access to employment authorization is even more important for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. Their ability to escape and remain free from exploitation, violence, and abuse depends on access to economic opportunity. Without access to financial independence, survivors are incredibly vulnerable and often face the choice of staying in an abusive relationship or homelessness. According to a survey of undocumented immigrant women conducted by the nonprofit HerJustice, 81% of survivors who did not have a work permit said they remained in abusive relationships because their partner controlled the household resources or because they could not access safe alternative housing. Survivors need real opportunities to leave and overcome violence.

The benefits of work authorization go beyond economic stability. Survivors of gender-based violence also indicated that with a work permit, they were more likely to call the police for help, felt more empowered to leave an abuser and make decisions about their family, and were more likely to get a protective order against an abuser and file for divorce. This only drives home what the movement to end gender-based violence has always known – economic empowerment is a core component of safety for all survivors.

There is currently an unprecedented backlog of work permit applications for immigrants. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency that issues visas and work permits, is leaving applicants in limbo for years. According to research conducted by HerJustice, in 2022, U Visa applicants waited an average of 5 years to receive their work permit.

And even when an immigrant survivor receives work authorization and begins working legally, that freedom can be short lived. Work permits must be renewed on a regular basis or immigrant survivors risk losing their jobs and health insurance. Tahirih has seen some of our clients’ work permits expire while they wait for the renewal to be approved, sometimes for over a year. This can happen multiple times throughout the life of a client while their immigration case slowly winds its way through the courts. While USCIS has made progress on these issues for certain immigrants, others remain left out.


What Tahirih is doing to improve access to work permits

As part of our policy advocacy, we conduct impact litigation—bringing lawsuits to fight unjust rules and policies that harm survivors. These include challenges to rules that keep thousands of refugees from exercising their legal rights and lawsuits to timely obtain the work permits that people with pending immigration applications desperately need to earn a living, achieve independence, and provide for their families.

Our impact litigation achieved the reversal of a rule that prevented asylum seekers from receiving timely work authorization. Last year, a federal court judgment offered relief to people seeking asylum who have been waiting for their EAD when it ruled that the previous administration’s restrictions on work permits were illegal and invalid. This ruling gave hope to people seeking asylum, many of whom have been living in this country for years and unable to work legally while they wait for their case to be approved. This was a huge and much-needed victory for survivors of gender-based violence seeking asylum, but it left out a large population of survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence who are applying for a different type of immigration status.

This is one of many reasons why the Tahirih Justice Center and our partners in the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors (AIS) are supporting the Working for Immigrant Safety and Empowerment Act (WISE) in Congress. The WISE Act is a comprehensive bill that would expand and enhance critical immigration benefits to immigrant survivors of violence applying for many different forms of legal protection, including those who are VAWA self-petitioners, T and U visa applicants (for survivors of trafficking and victims of crime including domestic violence), and special immigrant juveniles.

One provision of the WISE Act requires work permits to be issued within 180 days of filing an application, ensuring that survivors will be able to legally work in a timely manner and won’t experience lapses in their work permits that put them at risk of revictimization.

The WISE Act will also make important protections for immigrant survivors of violence more accessible by lifting arbitrary limits on the number of U Visas and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status visas available every year. There are over 300,000 individuals with pending U visa cases, and currently it takes over five years of processing time just to place these cases on the waitlist.

Access to work authorization creates opportunities for economic independence that are vital to immigrant survivors of violence and abuse. The current barriers and delays in receiving work permits puts immigrant survivors in a precarious position at risk of further violence and exploitation. Congress can help address this problem and protect the rights of immigrant survivors to live in safety and dignity by passing the WISE Act. To learn more about the many benefits of the WISE Act for immigrant survivors and to get involved in supporting its passage, visit the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors website.



HerJustice, “Stories from Immigrant Survivors of Gender-based Violence: The Impact of Work Authorization,”

Alliance for Immigrant Survivors, “The Working for Immigrant Safety and Empowerment (WISE) Act,” December 2022.