Biden admin says ‘critical mass’ of migrants in NYC are eligible for work permits

Migrants outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan
File photo Dean Moses

A Senior Biden administration official said Tuesday that there is a “critical mass” of migrants in New York City who are already eligible to apply for work permits.

The official, who spoke to reporters in a teleconference briefing on Sept. 12, said the administration is sending 50 federal staffers to the Big Apple to help the city and state identify those migrants who are already eligible to work. However, the official noted that they aren’t sure exactly how many of the city’s new arrivals already qualify for work authorizations.

“One thing is abundantly clear to me: there’s a critical mass of people in New York City … that we are confident are eligible to apply for work authorization immediately,” the official said. “We are going to locate them, interact with them, engage them and help them get a job as soon as possible.”

Migrants who apply for asylum must wait 180 days after filing their claims to be eligible for work authorizations.

The remarks follow months of local officials like Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul calling on the federal government to take steps that would allow the over 110,000 recently arrived migrants to legally work more quickly. Adams and Hochul argue granting newcomers’ legal work status would allow them to make enough money to support themselves and no longer be dependent on the city, which is currently housing about 60,000 of them.

The mayor even held a rally in Manhattan’s Foley Square late last month demanding Washington take action to relieve the influx’s strain on the city. However, the federal officials didn’t address one of the mayor’s and governor’s key asks for speeding up work permits—which is to renew and expand what’s known as Temporary Protected Status for several countries migrants fleeing from.

While taking questions following an unrelated press conference on Tuesday, Hochul said the White House’s pledge to send support staff to the city was a direct result of a meeting she had with the president’s chief of staff Jeff Zients and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Majorkas last month.

Governor Kathy Hochul.Photo courtesy of Governor Kathy Hcohul’s office

“Everything we’re talking about came after an intensive two and half hours of me meeting with Jeff Zients, the chief of staff, Alejandro Majorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and about a half a dozen other key individuals in the White House,” Hochul said. “The surge that we’re talking about. I asked them to send individuals to the civil immigration offices in Manhattan. To send more people. Send at least 50. Build it up to 200. So, they have agreed to do that. So, they’ll send the first wave. Some of them are already arriving.”

The governor indicated she would be supportive of a proposal from state lawmakers to implement a state work permit program that migrants could put in for within 45 days of applying for asylum. She also said her office is working on drafting language for a similar program that lawmakers could either be called back to Albany to pass now or wait until they start their next legislative session in January.

“My attorneys are working on [the language] as we speak,” Hochul told reporters. “I spoke about this at the White House. I said ‘I may do something at the state level. I may be having to do this.’ So, we’re working on language right now. This would be unprecedented. And I believe the federal government would believe we have to have their authority to move forward with state work permits. But as I said ‘we have to let them work.’”

The second federal administration official didn’t say if they would stop the state from issuing its own work permits but made it clear that it’s a “federal authority.”

“The provision of employment authorization is very clearly a federal authority,” they said. “And so it is not something that we would encourage states to pursue. If someone was seriously on that, we’ll take it as it comes. But our position has been that it is a clear federal authority.”