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September 27, 2012

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The Right to Work in Ecuador: A Positive Development within a Restrictive New Law

by Asylum Access

Adina Appelbaum is a second year joint MPP/JD student at Georgetown University.  She spent a year in Cairo, Egypt as a Fulbright Fellow providing legal aid to refugees who had fled from Iraq, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.  Adina has also worked with refugee issues at Asylum Access Ecuador and at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

By Adina Appelbaum

On May 30, 2012, the Ecuadorian government adopted Decreto 1182, a new restrictive decree that has replaced the previous policies regarding the refugee status determination process (RSD) in Ecuador.  Decreto 1182 represents a great setback for refugee rights in Ecuador, as the law no longer includes a provision to accept refugees under the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees of 1984, which until recently has provided protection to thousands of Colombians fleeing violence.  Under the new decree, asylum seekers now have only 15 business days to apply for status in Ecuador after entering the country and three to five days to submit an appeal for a negative decision.  Additionally, refugees who are considered ilegitimas, or illegitimate, are now excluded from the process.

One positive outcome of the new decree, however, is a provision that allows for asylum seekers soliciting for refugee status to have the right to work.  Previously, only refugees who had gained refugee status were given the right to work in Ecuador.  Despite the fact that the Ecuadorian constitution states that anyone within the limits of Ecuador has the right to get paid if they are working, in reality employers have notoriously discriminated against asylum seekers, refusing to hire them if they did not have documents.  Now that the new decree explicitly states that any asylum seeker who has been admitted to the RSD process has the same right to work as anyone with an official refugee visa, more asylum seekers and will have an opportunity to rebuild their lives in Ecuador.

This law is particularly noteworthy as it can take multiple months for asylum seekers to gain refugee status, meaning that prior to its passing, many asylum seekers were left stuck without the legal right to work and unable to feed their families and live safely during the application process.  In practice, it is unclear whether this new law will meaningfully lead to the right to work for the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in Ecuador, though its legal grounding allows for hope.  With the right to work written into the decree, refugee legal advocates will now have legal standing to fight for employment opportunities for asylum seekers.

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