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Refugees and Asylees Have the Right to Work: Overcoming Two Key Challenges when Communicating with Employers about Work Authorization

This post follows an earlier blog, Refugees and Asylees Have the Right to Work: Busting Three Myths about Social Security Delays & Work Authorization. Learn more on the upcoming Switchboard webinar Refugees and Asylees Have the Right to Work, taking place on December 2 – register now!

Service providers often encounter difficulties when communicating with employers about work authorization. This post provides tips on overcoming two common challenges when employers request specific documents from refugees and asylees as they complete the I-9.

Challenge #1: There can be a disconnect between what the law allows and what employers accept. Even though the law provides for flexibility in proving work authorization, it’s often hard to get employers on board.

Many employers are well-meaning but used to doing things the way they always have. They may not be familiar with the documents that refugees and asylees commonly have and the laws that pertain to these employment candidates. Other employers may be resistant to the inconvenience of going through a different process. Either way, there is a learning curve and a certain measure of inconvenience that employers face when putting in the work to adapt the way they usually do things in order to respect the employment rights of refugee and asylee candidates – and get great workers of course! There are things you can do to make interactions with employers more supportive, and less confrontational:

  • Start educating employers early in the relationship. Providing information and opportunities to ask questions soon after establishing the relationship will ensure that everyone is on the same page. It will also help any misunderstandings or concerns rise to the surface faster. Consider providing employer partners with information packets sharing key resources and employer orientation information.
  • When there is a question or concern from an employer regarding the work authorization of your clients, or other concerns related to employment rights, give them the benefit of the doubt. Assure employers that you are here to support them in this process and will work with them to find the answer to their question until their concern is addressed.
  • Don’t be afraid to put employers in touch with the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) office at the U.S. Department of Justice. Most employers really want to follow the law, and some of their hesitations with doing things differently for refugees and asylees actually come from a fear of breaking the law. While the IER office sometimes does play the role of “enforcer” when employers are disregarding the law, they more frequently serve as a resource for employers. They often have informal conversations with employers to address their questions and concerns. Employers can even call IER anonymously. IER does not ask employers (or workers) to identify themselves.

Challenge #2: If we hold employers accountable to the requirements of the law, we may “burn a bridge,” and lose an employer partner who has hired a lot of clients in the past or is likely to hire a lot of clients in the future.

It’s never easy to question or confront an employer who seems to be disregarding clients’ rights. It can also feel risky when that employer has hired many clients in the past or seems eager to hire clients in the future. Whenever you find yourself in a situation like this, remind yourself of the following:

  • These conversations may be uncomfortable at first, but over time you will get better at having them. You will find non-confrontational ways to share this information earlier in the employer relationship. When these situations come up from time to time with established employer partners, you will capitalize on the rapport you’ve built over time, give employers the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, and partner with them to find solutions to their concerns. In the long run, this will actually make the relationship stronger.
  • You are committed to the well-being of your clients. Of course, you want your clients to have a job as quickly as possible, but if you are encountering significant challenges regarding employment documents and rights with a certain employer, it may be in the best interest of your clients to identify another employment opportunity. You can then continue providing education and support to the employer who may have some confusion or resistance to the employment rights of refugees and asylees.
  • You’re not in this alone! Support is available through the DOJ IER office. They can provide coaching to you for specific situations; they can facilitate informal consultations with employers; or, as a last resort, you can file a charge against employers who may be violating employment rights and they will investigate.

While we never want to burn a bridge, we also have a role in ensuring that the career “bridges” our clients cross are safe for them.  

Want to learn more?

Join us for Refugees and Asylees have the Right to Work! Switchboard is hosting a webinar on December 2, 2020 from 2:00-3:00 PM that will focus on the employment rights of refugees and asylees, with a special focus on issues related to employment documents. The webinar will feature a special guest presentation from Senior Trial Attorney Liza Zamd of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section. The webinar will also include a Q&A panel featuring service providers representing the national resettlement agency networks. Register now, invite your colleagues, and bring your questions!

“I was on a DOJ IER webinar earlier this year […] and it was super helpful – the information in the webinar is what helped me and my team advocate for our clients and get them jobs. It was probably the most practical and immediately helpful webinar I have been on in a long while.” – Monica Harris, Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (Dayton, OH)

Useful Resources

Finally, as you continue to navigate these complex issues, you may find the following resources helpful:

As a way to respond to questions and offer support, the IER provides hotline numbers for workers (which you can also call) as well as employers. Calls can be anonymous and language services are available. The hotlines are open 9am-5pm ET, Monday-Friday.

  • Employers: 1-800-255-8155
  • Workers (and service providers): 1-800-255-7688

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