- Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Media Contact for Office for Refugees and Immigrants to Provide Additional Legal Support for New Arrivals in the State’s Shelter System
Cecille Joan Avila, Media Relations Manager
BOSTON — Today, the Healey-Driscoll administration announced that the Office for Refugees and Immigrants and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will offer additional legal aid services for new arrivals in the state’s emergency shelter system. The Refugee Legal Services program will enable resettlement agencies to offer expanded help to new arrivals and asylum seekers in filing work authorization applications.
This new program will be administered by refugee resettlement agencies that already partner with the state to provide case management and legal services to refugees seeking resettlement, with the goal to enable shelter residents to begin working sooner and reduce the strain placed on the Emergency Assistance system.
“In the last few months, we have seen many families come to Massachusetts looking for a place to live and work, and we want to help people make this a reality as soon as possible,” said Governor Maura Healey. “These refugee resettlement agencies are uniquely qualified to help new arrivals with their needs. While we continue to advocate for the federal government to make desperately needed changes to the work authorization program, this program is an important step for us to provide legal assistance that can speed up this process and help put people on the path to get work, support their families and address our workforce needs.”
“For many new arrivals to Massachusetts, we know that waiting for work authorizations can be a significant barrier that comes after they have finally made it here,” said Lt. Governor Kimberley Driscoll. “In the absence of federal action, we’re taking action to expedite the work authorization process, so we can help people get the jobs they are qualified to do and also begin to address some of the workforce challenges that exist throughout the state.”
“We are committed to helping new arrivals to the Commonwealth lead healthy and productive lives,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh. “These resettlement agencies already have tremendous experience in helping immigrants start their new lives here, and we foresee that building on this partnership to include legal services will only help the state be in a better position to tackle some of the challenges that new arrivals to Massachusetts face.”
Beginning with the Refugee Immigrant Assistance Center, Jewish Family Services of Metrowest, and the Organization for Immigrant and Refugee Success, legal services will expand to a total of eight resettlement agencies by mid-October, covering over 40 temporary emergency shelters. The resettlement agencies will assist in filing work authorizations and pro-se asylum applications for new arrivals, among other services. They will also receive funding from the state to pay for the filing fees to allow for online application filing, which can help to expedite the work authorization process. The full expansion is expected to cover more than 70 percent of shelters in the state who do not have service providers.
Eligible individuals are new arrivals and asylum seekers who are legally allowed to be present in the United States after seeking entrance at the border through the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP1 app) pre-scheduled appointment system for asylum seekers.
Lawyers will meet with families in shelter, assess their eligibility for work authorization and asylum, and assist in filing the necessary applications online. Resettlement agencies will also conduct follow ups to make sure that families attend any essential appointments needed to finalize the process.
Successful work authorization applications can be completed in six to eight weeks. Resettlement agencies already provide wraparound services including helping people search for housing and employment and enrolling in English as a Second Language classes.
The legal assistance is in addition to the Immigrant Assistance Services (IAS) program that is managed by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The IAS program currently operates largely in staffed shelters, assisting families with limited pathways to work authorization. This new program will focus on new arrivals who, because of recent changes in federal policy and because these families entered at the border using the CBP1 app, can immediately apply for work authorization. Resettlement agencies have unique and valuable experience resettling immigrants, having resettled waves of immigrants coming to the United States, including many of the recent Ukrainian and Afghan arrivals.
There are currently more than 6,500 families in shelter, which represent both new arrivals to the state and long-term Massachusetts residents. It is estimated that more than a third of current shelter population are new arrivals. Families who are wholly undocumented or whose presence is not acknowledged by federal immigration authorities are not eligible for Emergency Assistance shelter.