Op-ed | Why asylum seekers need work authorization now

Mayor Eric Adams, Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs and homeless advocate Shams DaBaron spent the night at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.
Photo courtesy of Mayor’s Office Twitter

Since last year, tens of thousands of asylum seekers — adults as well as families with children — have fled dire conditions in their home countries and crossed the United States’ southern border in search of safety and a better life. Unlike previous groups of migrants and asylum seekers, the new arrivals are less likely to have a friend, family member, or sponsor to turn to for help. As a result, they are entirely dependent on the city to secure shelter, food, clothing, legal services, healthcare and more.

New York City has and always will be a city of immigrants and we are proud to have stepped up and mobilized multiple city agencies to swiftly meet the asylum seekers’ needs. But this puts a substantial drain on the city’s resources. We must be able to guide asylum seekers toward a path of self-sufficiency — and a key component of that path is work authorization.

The federal government requires asylum seekers to wait for years to receive work permits, which exacerbates the challenges that both they and the city face. That is why, since last year, my administration has been urging the federal government to implement an expedited right-to-work policy for asylum seekers who remain compliant with immigration enforcement requirements. If you are here as an asylum seeker you should be able to work legally as soon as possible.

Without the ability to work legally and safely, migrants cannot provide for themselves or their children, they cannot rent a place to live, they cannot purchase basic necessities, and they cannot easily integrate into our communities. The asylum seeker of today is the New Yorker of tomorrow, and we must give them the opportunity to support their families, live with dignity and move away from reliance on city services.

Those who come to our country in search of refuge don’t want charity, they don’t want to be dependent on government or community aid, they want to contribute and have a chance to fulfill the American Dream. When I went to El Paso in January, I asked a group of almost one hundred men whether they would be willing to work if given a job.  Every one of one of them shot up their hands.  I also received a resounding “yes” to my question when I visited the humanitarian relief center at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, and again, when I slept there overnight. In fact, I hear repeatedly from migrants that they are ready and want to work.

We have plenty of jobs for everyone. In December 2022 alone, there were more than 59,700 new job postings in New York City. In addition, there have been an average of more than 82,200 new job postings every month in 2022. Small business owners have reported difficulty hiring enough workers to keep their businesses running strong. It would benefit our city, our economy, business owners, and the asylum seekers themselves if they were eligible to apply for some of those jobs.

The federal government has the power to expedite work authorization, and it has done so for certain Ukrainian and Afghan migrants. The asylum seeker crisis is a national emergency that requires the same decisive and humane action. 

For nearly 400 years, New York City has taken in newcomers from all over the world. They are our city’s heart and soul as well as our economic engine. To this day, more than half of our population comes from another country or is a direct descendant of a recent arrival. We will continue to lead the nation as the capital of diversity and compassion. But we are being tasked with solving a national crisis with our limited municipal resources and with one hand tied behind our backs.

We need the federal government’s assistance, and we need it now. Expediting work authorization for migrants will allow us to continue to welcome new arrivals and enable them to begin building their new lives as our fellow New Yorkers.