“Huddled Masses”: Employment Eligibility of Afghan Refugees

By Maureen E. James - Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.

September 23, 2021

International news has been dominated the last few weeks with the situation in Afghanistan.  The withdrawal of troops and politics aside, there has been a large humanitarian story playing out with the evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies.  With that comes the rise of domestic concerns – Where will people go? How will they provide for themselves? What will their futures look like?  The U.S. Government is starting to piece together this complicated puzzle, along with resettlement groups, through Operation Allies Welcome.  This blog is not the place to dive into the complexities of geo-political issues, but from an employer’s point of view, here are some noteworthy thoughts because it is may be possible to hire people who have left Afghanistan.

Along with American citizens and green card holders, some persons leaving Afghanistan have been already granted special immigrant visas (SIV).  SIVs are available to individuals who have worked as translators, interpreters, or other professionals employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan.  After undergoing a lengthy process and receiving approval, those visa holders may be eligible for the same federal benefits as those with refugee status while staying in the U.S., including, Medicaid, SNAP, and SSI.  Those holding SIVs are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

As these visas were issued mostly to persons who worked directly with American troops, their number is small in comparison to the total number of persons who were flown out of Afghanistan.  Many of the persons leaving Afghanistan are considered to have humanitarian parole.  This status is drastically different from those with permanent residency (i.e a green card) or SIV.  Persons on parole status do not have the same rights to federal benefits, nor can they work in the U.S.  Much of their support comes from private organizations.  For example, Airbnb has pledged free temporary housing, Verizon is offering free international calls, and an online company is offering some free telehealth options.  Many cities and towns are also putting together local resources to offer if Afghans resettle in their area.

If a person on parole status wishes to work, they must file an Employment Authorization Document to seek permission to work legally in the country.  According to reports, the government and private organizations have been offering support for this inquiry early in their resettlement efforts.

After a person’s parole period has ended (it is difficult to say how long the period can last as it can be a case-by-case decision or governmental order), they must file for further immigration status with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).  This will pave a path to legal residency or possible citizenship.  Depending on their situation, the person could apply for various types of visas or seek asylum.

With the major labor shortage in the US, employers have had many questions about employing Afghans.  If you are considering a candidate for employment but have questions about his or her eligibility to work in the U.S., please feel free to reach out to the attorneys at our firm for guidance.

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