Senator Collins to DHS Secretary: Achieve ‘Win-Win Situation’ by Helping Asylum Seekers Work Sooner

At an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Senator Collins asked Secretary Mayorkas to work with her on shortening the waiting period for work authorizations 

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Secretary Mayorkas. Click HERE to download.

Washington, D.C.—At a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, touted legislation she introduced with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, which would shorten the waiting period before asylum seekers become eligible to receive work authorizations. 

Senator Collins shared that a Freeport restaurant owner informed her that he desperately needed workers to avoid having to reduce his business hours, but he was unable to hire asylum seekers living in the hotel next door due to existing federal law.  Senator Collins told DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that her bill would create a “win-win situation” by helping small businesses that are experiencing a shortage of workers while allowing asylum seekers to support themselves and their families as they want to do.

Secretary Mayorkas agreed that the current system is in need of reform and pledged to work with Senator Collins on this issue.

Senator Collins:

Mr. Secretary since January of this year, approximately 900 individuals have arrived in Portland, Maine, from our southern border. They join thousands of other asylum seekers who have made their way to the State of Maine. I want to tell you a story to illustrate a real problem that we have because of the current law that prohibits asylum seekers from working for a number of months. I received a call last year from a restaurant owner in Freeport, Maine. He was desperate for more workers. He was having to curtail the number of hours that he could be open because of a lack of employees. Right next to that restaurant was a hotel that was hosting asylum seekers and their families. The hotel was full of them. The hotel owner wanted to hire some of the asylum seekers. In other words, we had a situation here where employers were desperate to hire these individuals who had made their way to the State of Maine, and these asylum seekers were very eager to get to work. They brought skills with them, energy with them, they wanted to be independent of local aid. They wanted to be able to support their families. So, if we allowed asylum seekers to work after a one-month vetting period, as long as they entered through a legal port of entry, one month would give us time to do an initial background check, to make sure they weren't on the terrorist watch list, for example, and to verify their identities. Why couldn't we change the law and have a win-win situation here? The asylum seekers are eager to work and support themselves and their families. The employers in my state are desperate for more workers. And it would also benefit the municipalities that are under increasing strain as they're supporting thousands of asylum seekers. So, Senator Sinema and I, along with a bipartisan coalition, have introduced legislation that would shorten the period to one month. Would you support such a bill?

Secretary Mayorkas:

Senator, thank you very much for your question. I very much look forward to working with you on that bill. You and I have spoken before about the great misfortune of having employers throughout the United States that depend on additional workers, seasonal or otherwise, and yet our fundamentally broken immigration system cannot meet that need. And I take a look at the country to the north, to Canada, and how their immigration system actually is more responsive to their labor needs than certainly ours is. Whether it's the H2-B program, or the fact that an asylum seeker must wait 150 days, I think it's 150 days since the filing of their application, before they can apply for a work authorization. Our asylum system is fundamentally broken. Our whole immigration system is broken and I very much look forward to working with you on a bipartisan basis.

Senator Collins:

Thank you, I'd very much appreciate that. We can't fix every problem, but boy, we ought to be able to fix that one.


As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins is pressing forward with Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) to hold subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget.  These hearings provide an important opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and will help guide Senators Collins and Murray’s efforts to write the annual government funding bills.