2022 Grants Challenge

Achieving Work Authorization for Immigrant Survivors of Trauma

Many immigrants with pending visa petitions are limited in their ability to provide for themselves and contribute to their communities because they lack legal work permits. Due to recent policy changes, however, it is now possible for our clients to obtain work authorization while their visa applications are still pending. With grant funds, we will file for legal work authorization and conduct educational workshops on rights and responsibilities associated with lawful employment status for over 500 immigrant survivors of trauma in L.A. County.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Immigrant and Refugee Support

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Throughout LA, there is a persistent need for immigration assistance among survivors of abuse, crime, and neglect. ICWC has provided such assistance since 2004, and is a national expert on two humanitarian-based visa categories: U visas and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). While U visas apply to those who are survivors of violent crime, SIJS applicants are abandoned, abused, or neglected undocumented youth. Unfortunately, it can take over 5 years for these visas to be approved. While applications are pending, clients are unable to work legally. This poses a substantial barrier to clients' financial, social, and emotional well-being. Recent policy changes, however, have opened up the possibility for these clients to obtain work permits. As of June 2021 for U visas and May 2022 for SIJS, petitioners of these visas may apply for work permits while their applications are pending. As a result, ICWC has the opportunity to greatly increase access to jobs among immigrants in LA.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

This grant will support the legal and administrative services involved in filing for work authorization for SIJS and U visa petitioners. In total, we expect to assist over 500 clients who are eligible for these work permits over a one-year period. Because of the recent policy changes mentioned in Question 6, ICWC is now able to apply for work permits for 60 LA-based clients with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. In addition, ICWC intends to assist an estimated 450 U visa clients throughout the grant period. (*This estimate is based on the number of work authorizations for U visa clients handled by ICWC's LA office in the past 12 months.) The legal staff at ICWC file for work permits by first requesting an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765) and then submitting an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Employment Authorization applications are submitted on a rolling basis depending on the status of each client. In addition to the legal and administrative work required to obtain work permits, ICWC will run workshops and engage in outreach to inform immigrants of their eligibility for work authorization, as well as any rights and responsibilities that a work permit entails. Please see Question 11 for a more detailed description of the work permit application process.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

By attaining work permits for immigrants with pending visa applications, this project will improve the quality of life for local immigrants in numerous ways. Clients who receive work authorization will benefit financially when they obtain gainful employment, and will be better able to support themselves and their families. Legal work permits will empower immigrants to demand safe, humane working conditions, fair compensation for their work, and freedom from labor exploitation based on their immigration status. Employment is also a key social determinant of health, and can positively influence workers' self-esteem, social connections, and engagement within their community. These benefits will promote successful integration of immigrant populations throughout Los Angeles.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

ICWC uses the Cerenade eImmigration database to track all cases handled by the agency and to document the number of applications filed, case status, and qualitative data specific to each case. Current data suggest a strong need for this program. In the past 12 months, ICWC has handled thousands of applications for work authorization for U visa petitioners. In addition, ICWC currently has 60 SIJS clients who are newly eligible to apply for work authorization. When clients return to our agency to apply for green cards, our staff document several pieces of information that suggest a positive impact on quality of life after receiving work authorization. Clients report increased incomes, safer and more stable sources of work, as well as contributions to retirement plans and social security. Beyond this, we have seen numerous times that legal work permits allow clients to live freer, safer, and more open lives.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 500

Indirect Impact: 2,500