Offering a bit of relief to Chicago and other cities grappling with the migrant crisis, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday announced it will expedite work visas for Venezuelans seeking asylum in the United States.
The decision — sought by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democratic leaders — will help a majority of migrants who have been bused to Chicago and flooded the city’s shelters as they await work authorization.
The Biden Administration announcement will accelerate the processing of work authorizations and designate and extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans for 18 months for those who were in the U.S. on or before July 31.
The department said the decision will impact “approximately hundreds of thousands [of] Venezuelan nationals across the country,” who will now be immediately eligible to apply for work authorization.
Pritzker on Wednesday night applauded the decision, saying the incoming migrants are “eager to contribute to their new communities and get to work.”
“Since day one of this humanitarian crisis, I have heard one thing from migrant families and their advocates— they want to build better lives and work,” Pritzker said in a statement.
“I’m very pleased that President Biden has listened to my concerns and those of other governors and political leaders and expanded Temporary Protected Status to migrants from Venezuela, thousands of whom have been sent to Illinois over the last year.”
Mayor Brandon Johnson called the decision “an important step in protecting individuals who seek work without fear of exploitation, wage theft and trafficking.”
“This action demonstrates how intergovernmental coordination across national, state and local governments continues to make our city a safe sanctuary to all people,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson and Pritzker on Aug. 28 sent Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas a letter, calling on him to create an expanded work authorization in which states could sponsor non-citizens to work in industries facing labor shortages.
The letter noted that since the arrival of the first bus sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in August 2022, Illinois and the city of Chicago have spent more than $250 million to support more than 13,000 asylum seekers who came to Chicago from the U.S.-Mexico border. A backlog of applications has many new arrivals waiting six months or more to take a job legally.
“If after these many months asylum-seekers still are not being given permission by the federal government to support themselves with the plethora of available jobs — well, frankly, this moves from a short-term humanitarian mission to a long-term crisis,” the governor said at a news conference late last month.
Pritzker was joined that day by business leaders, including members of the restaurant and construction industries, Johnson and some Democratic members of the Illinois congressional delegation.
That letter came four months after Sen. Dick Durbin co-wrote a letter to Biden with Sen. Tammy Duckworth and 10 other colleagues asking the president to allow “state governments to sponsor noncitizens for parole and work authorization to meet critical workforce needs.”
Top Democrats in New York, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, have also been pressuring the Biden administration to expedite work permits for migrants. More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last year.
In late August, the number of new arrivals sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations had increased 6% to 1,100, even though Johnson has made it a priority to “decompress” police stations. Another 170 new arrivals had taken up residence at O’Hare International Airport.
Fifteen shelters in Chicago have housed more than 6,300 new arrivals and the city has spent more than $20 million per month to house, feed, clothe and care for migrants.