N.Y. launches program to turn more immigrant asylum seekers into restaurant and hotel workers

Under a new initiative championed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the state is serving as a matchmaker between the new arrivals and prospective employers.
Gov. Hochul announces her program. | Photo courtesy of Gov. Hochul's office.

In a pilot program likely to be closely watched elsewhere, the state of New York is acting as matchmaker between newly arrived immigrants who have been cleared to work and 379 companies that are eager to hire them.

About 90 restaurant and lodging employers are among the workplaces participating in the placement program.

The initiative, announced yesterday by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, is intended to address two of the Empire State’s vexing issues.

The state has been beset by a huge influx of political-asylum seekers and other immigrants who were relocated to the state after crossing U.S. borders for a better life. New York has earmarked $1.7 billion to provide shelter and other assistance to the arrivals.

Meanwhile, restaurants, hotels and other local businesses are struggling to find enough potential hires. 

"Migrants and asylum seekers came here to work -- so let's put them to work," Hochul said. "Right now, we have a migrant crisis and a workforce crisis. By connecting work-eligible individuals with jobs and opportunity in New York, we can solve them both and secure a brighter future for all New Yorkers."

In late August, Hochul directed the state Department of Labor to build a list of private employers who would be willing to hire new arrivals after they’d been cleared to work. That effort garnered the list of 379 companies, which collectively reported 18,000 job openings. About 24% of the employers are in the foodservice or lodging businesses, according to the governor.

The lion’s share of the openings—9,801—are in New York City, with areas just north and east of the city presenting another 4,190 posts to be filled.

Simultaneous with canvassing businesses statewide, the administration established a process for immigrants cleared by the federal government to work to flag their desire to land a job. At its heart is a simple form that asks such questions as what languages they speak and where they currently reside.

To help in bringing prospective employers and new hires together, 250 members of the National Guard have been deployed as full-time case workers.

The matchmaking program does not streamline the process for gaining approval to work in the U.S. Asylum seekers typically have to wait about six months before being cleared to legally take a job, often the objective of their relocation.

Separately, however, Hochul successfully lobbied the Biden administration to grant Temporary Protected Status—a sort of blanket work approval—to any immigrants from Venezuela who arrived in the U.S. before July 31. The federal action is projected to bring 15,000 former Venezuelan residents into the labor pool of New York City alone within the next month.

New York has directed 16 state agencies and 70 employees to continue soliciting employers who may be interested in hiring asylum seekers. It has also set up a portal where businesses can add their name to the willing-to-hire list, and has created a promotional flyer to spread to the word.

The state is pursuing the program as more restaurant-industry advocates see an opportunity in the nation’s immigration crisis to ease the business’ labor plight. Asylum seekers from Central and South America have been pouring across U.S. borders to escape the political and economic turmoil of their native lands. Texas, Florida and Arizona have attempted to spread the economic and social burdens of taking in those newcomers by sending them via bus and plane to areas as far afield as Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.  

Groups like the Critical Labor Coalition say a more tenable solution would be to streamline the process of approving the immigrants to work in their new homelands. Landing jobs would decrease the new arrivals’ need for financial aid and government-provided housing, they argue.

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