Workforce

New York tries a program for turning asylum seekers into restaurant cooks

A pilot program undertaken with the instructional institution C-CAP aims to steer the immigrants into foodservice jobs, starting with positions in New York City.
Hochul has championed getting asylum seekers into the workforce more quickly. | Photo courtesy of Gov. Hochul's office

A pilot program is underway in New York City to train immigrant asylum seekers for kitchen jobs in Big Apple restaurants and hotels.

Careers through Culinary Arts Programs, or C-CAP, is providing the new arrivals to the U.S. with instruction in foodservice fundamentals. The goal is to provide them with the skills needed to qualify for entry-level cooking and baking jobs.

C-CAP, one of the industry’s longest-standing work-prep programs, is also handling placement of the trainees. Ten have signed up for the initial class, with 40 more slated to undergo the five-week program during its pilot stage. That testing phase is expected to continue into March.

The students graduate with a New York City Food Handler certificate, qualifying them for kitchen jobs. Much of the instruction will be delivered in Spanish because of the enrollee’s backgrounds, according to C-CAP.

“As an immigrant myself, I know firsthand the hard work and hustle these new Americansbring to the work force,” celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson commented in the announcement of the program. “The hospitality industry has long been one where that grit and determination can turn into a meaningful and lifelong career. By creating this program, we are facilitating that path towards upward mobility.”

The chef-proprietor of Red Rooster and other restaurants in New York City is serving as a co-chair of C-CAP.

The initiative is part of an effort by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to clear the way for newly arriving immigrants to enter the workforce while waiting to see if they’ll be granted asylum in the U.S. The state is funding the C-CAP curriculum.

Hochul has argued that faster employment would get the new arrivals out of the overcrowded makeshift facilities where they’re being housed, often in trying conditions and at taxpayers’ expense, pending a decision on their status.

The process can take years. Just the process of qualifying to work in the U.S. while awaiting a decision typically eats up six months. The state has earmarked $1.7 billion to cover the cost of supporting the asylum seekers in the interim.

Meanwhile, Hochul and others note, employers like restaurants and hotels are struggling to find staff, and the immigrants are eager to begin earning a paycheck. The hope of finding a job is often the reason they’ve come to the United States.

New York’s Department of Labor asked employers in the state to put their name on an official list if they were interested in hiring the asylum seekers. About 380 companies signed up. About 90 of them were restaurant or hotel employers.

The sheer volume of people pouring across U.S. borders has festered into a crisis for the city and state of New York, where several hundred thousand newcomers have been shipped from border states that profess to being overwhelmed themselves.

In New York City, some asylum seekers have had to camp in the streets because the facilities set aside for them have been filled beyond capacity. Those facilities have ranged from a midtown hotel to a huge former hospital for the mentally ill.

“With support from C-CAP and the hospitality industry, New York is finally moving beyond the ‘migrant crisis’ to take advantage of the energy and talent of newcomers,” Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said in a statement. The group works to improve the city by fostering collaboration between business and government.  

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