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Lack of access to work permits continues to keep many migrants from being able to exit shelters

Obtaining work permits remains difficult for migrants in Chicago
Obtaining work permits remains difficult for migrants in Chicago 02:44

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The City of Chicago said Friday that there are more asylums seekers still in shelters than those who have been resettled out.

To date, the city said just about 36,000 people have come to Chicago since the crisis began.

The issue continues to be work permits – access to temporary protected status that can only be expedited for those who arrived from qualifying countries before Aug. 1.

Many of those in shelters arrived after Aug. 1. They cannot be self-sufficient without being able to work.

Mariana Coterras, a mother of two from Venezuela, finally got her work permit after almost two years of being in the U.S.

Coterras explained that one of the reasons why it took so long was because of the sheer cost of it all.

"Because everything requires an expense, then that is why the work permit has just come out," Cotteras said in Spanish.

Migrants still struggling to get work permits in Chicago 02:35

The application costs a few hundred dollars – and is entirely in English. That does not include any necessary legal fees, though many have had those costs waived with an additional application.

Coterras said since getting to the U.S., nothing has been easy for her or her family. She said her husband fled political persecution as she and her family traveled from Venezuela.

She had been volunteering by helping other new arrivals before being able to look for a paying job.

Since the crisis began, the City of Chicago estimates 12,353 people have been resettled out of shelters. An additional 4,659 have been reunited with sponsors.

The sponsors are people who asylum seekers already knew, and who have helped them adjust to living in the U.S.

Meanwhile, a total of 12,393 people remain in shelters – with little hope for a work permit in sight.

Volunteers have been working to provide basic necessities for families when they arrive – including clothes and medicine.

Johannes Favi is the deputy director of the Illinois Community for Displaced Immigrants. He has been collecting donations of clothing and basic necessities in both downtown Chicago and west suburban Elmhurst.

"We still are seeing people every day coming to our storage unit," he said.

Favi said the need has never slowed. His organization has also helped with paperwork and self-sufficiency.

"To be able to leave the shelter, you have to have community support," Favi said. "You have to have a case manager that could help you apply for benefits in Illinois and become self-sufficient. You have to learn English. That's the first step."

He said resettlement can take anywhere from months to years.

For families like Cotteras', it is a risk they are willing to take to build a better life for their children in America.

"Yes, since I left, the well-being of my children has really been our priority," Cotteras said in Spanish. "Unfortunately, we cannot return to our country, so my husband is politically persecuted – and our dream is to move forward, help our family who is in Venezuela, and give them a better for coming to our children.

The City of Chicago began a partnership on Nov. 9 with the federal government, state government, and The Resurrection Project, a nonprofit organization, to help migrants apply for work permits so they can legally get a job.

A few weeks ago, CBS 2 reported that the efforts of that partnership had pivoted to focus instead on those living outside city shelters – because they ran out of people who qualified inside shelters.

Only the Biden administration can change that qualification deadline that would make more people eligible.

Organizations like the Illinois Community for Displaced Immigrants have been pushing the Biden administration to extend the deadline for expedited work permits to include more people who arrived after Aug. 1. But this has been to no avail.

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