HOUSTON – (Oct. 31, 2022) – Expanding work permits for undocumented immigrants could fix the United States immigration system’s “large, overlooked and often invisible crack” that fails to account for essential workers, according to a new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
“So many of the undocumented want to work but have no realistic means of doing so lawfully,” wrote Catherine Glazer, contributing scholar at the Baker Institute’s Center for the United States and Mexico. “They are valuable, and they are wanted — they are needed by the employers who depend on them. Rather than holding onto the existing, limited options, a more inclusive system will represent a new level of recognition that will fortify not only workers but the country’s future.”
Glazer’s report examines available work permits and provides recommendations for policymakers and advocates. Currently, undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. and fill essential roles in society have no means of legalizing their status. Certain programs, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), offer work and travel authorization as well as temporary protection from deportation, but they are limited in scope and provide no permanent solutions.
Undocumented immigrants provide critical services in some of the most important sectors in the U.S., such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, the meat and dairy industries and the food supply chain, Glazer argues. Expanding permits to include these fields benefits workers and the country, she said.
The Extraordinary Ability (O-1) work permit, for instance, allows those in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, film or television fields to obtain a work permit if they meet certain criteria. Glazer argues this concept is a model for work permit expansion to more fields because of subjectivity in the approval and “creativity by the individual presenting a case.”
A similar work permit category for more industries could include factors focused on compassionate criteria rather than extraordinary ability, Glazer argues. These criteria could include years of work experience, mentorship experience or recognition of contributions to a company or organization.
Expanding current nonimmigrant work permit categories through minimal adjustments recognizes the undocumented community for its valuable contributions and continued potential, she argues.
“Rather than holding onto the existing, limited options, a more inclusive system will represent a new level of recognition that will fortify not only workers but the country’s future,” Glazer wrote.