Karen, an immigrant from Jamaica, is still awaiting her new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). It’s been over five months and the Florida school nursing supervisor has been barely holding on to her job by showing the agency she works for an extension application filed by her attorney.

With school out in a few weeks and no new EAD in hand, Karen, whose name has been changed for this article, cannot look for another part-time job, as she has no valid renewed EAD to show she is legally allowed to work in the U.S.

Her attorney filed for the renewal weeks before the expiration date, but her case simply says, “Processing.” She has also received a notice that the delay is due to a lack of processing “paper” to create the document.

Most applicants can file to renew their employment authorization card up to six months before their cards are set to expire, yet given the current lengthy processing times, many applicants are not getting their renewals approved before the current EAD expires.

The COVID-19 pandemic has of course not helped. A four-month office closure of Application Support Centers and Field Offices caused a significant delay and backlog in EAD processing across the United States.

USCIS has yet to catch up and processing times continue to remain lengthy for both family-based and employment-based EAD applications, with attorneys saying the wait times range anywhere from five to 12 months.

This has interrupted the lives of many and caused undue stress on applicants, including Dreamers. Some employers who are eager to hire/retain foreign employees or immigrants wanting to look for a new job simply are at a standstill.

As a result of the processing backlogs, many employers are also unable to onboard new employees and are terminating employees while they wait for their EADs.

It should be noted that employers have an obligation to verify that all of their new hires are authorized to work and do so by completing the USCIS Form I-9. During routine I-9 audits, if an employer is unable to verify its employee’s work authorization, they can be liable for civil sanctions or fines. So, most employers remain strict about hiring and retaining only work authorized employees and are forced to let go of employees who have a gap in work authorization. Consequently, the workflow of many companies has been disrupted when foreign workers are terminated, even if only temporarily.

There seems to be no real recourse for EAD applicants to speed up processing times. Many have sought to expedite the processing of their EAD applications through a process called “expedited processing.” Expedited processing is made available by USCIS to applicants who can show (a) severe financial loss with further delay, (b) an urgent humanitarian reason, or (c) one of the other

criteria laid out by USCIS. But the number of expedited processing requests seems to be almost equal to the number of EAD requests currently pending before USCIS. As a result, this alleged recourse to speed up one’s EAD application is now also moot.

At the end of the day, USCIS’s delayed processing times have had particularly deleterious effects on employers and foreign national employees nationwide through no fault of their own. This is outrageous, given the fees already paid by these immigrants, and the USCIS, which depends on immigrants’ fees for survival, should hasten to hire more workers and put the resources in place to clear this backlog pronto.

The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow