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NYS: Proposed New York-only Work Visas for Migrants Met With Mixed Reactions

Federal authorities indicated that the proposed policy would be an overreach by the New York state government
Published: September 13, 2023
Asylum seekers board a bus en route to a shelter at Port Authority Bus Terminal on May 18, 2023, in New York City. (Image: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

On Sept. 12, Democratic New York Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar proposed that if the Federal government fails to issue work permits for non-U.S. citizen migrants in the state, then Albany should step in and do so.

“In the absence of Federal action to issue work permits, the State must lead and issue the work permits on its own,” the close ally of NYC mayor Eric Adams said in a statement Tuesday (Sept. 12), adding that “it is time for the State to take ownership over the migrant crisis.”

Her calls for action are supported by at least three other state lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, Senator Zellnor Myrie and Senator Luis Sepúlveda, the New York Post reported.

Recently Cruz told Politico, “The federal government’s lack of action, it’s almost embarrassing.”

However, also on Tuesday, a White House official, speaking anonymously with reporters, said regulating immigration and work authorizations is a federal responsibility, implying that the State may be overstepping its mandate should it choose to issue the visas. 

Under federal law, migrants must wait roughly 180 days before they can apply for a work visa, and the process could take upwards of two months to complete after that.


Plan could exacerbate crisis

The plan is not only facing federal hurdles, but many New York City council members are raising the alarm as well, concerned that the plan could exacerbate the crisis. 

“Allowing migrants to ‘cut the line’ will further incentivize more to come and exacerbate this already unmanageable crisis,” the council’s Common Sense Caucus said in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sept. 1. 

“Like the millions who came here before them, the migrants who have recently arrived in New York City should follow the lawful immigration process before receiving work authorization or other benefits,” the statement reads.

The bipartisan Common Sense Caucus is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, including Minority Leader Joseph Borelli and Queens Democrat Robert Holden.

Mayor Eric Adams has been pushing for work visas for migrants for months now, believing that allowing them to work and earn an income is the best way to relieve stress on City resources. 

“It’s just common sense,” Adams said at a rally in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 7.


107,000 asylum seekers

According to New York City statistics, since the spring of 2022, upwards of 107,000 migrants have landed in the city seeking asylum, many bussed in by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

The crisis is expected to cost municipal coffers upwards of $12 billion by 2025.

New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, is supporting Adams’ push for immediate work visas for migrants, who believes that allowing migrants to legally provide for themselves and their families is the best way to address the issue and the shortest path through the crisis.

The crisis was the main topic of conversation in late August, when Hochul traveled to Washington to meet with members of the Biden administration at the White House. 

The White House released a readout of the meeting which confirmed Hochul and Biden officials discussed a plan to assist eligible migrants to obtain work visas, but fell short concerning how that plan would be executed. 

Business leaders speak up

The crisis has prompted New York business leaders to issue a letter to Biden and members of Congress, recommending that work permits for tens of thousands of asylum seekers be issued, and placed the responsibility to address the issue squarely at the feet of federal lawmakers. 

“Immigration policies and control of our country’s border are clearly a federal responsibility; state and local governments have no standing in this matter,” the letter, issued by the Partnership for New York City reads. 

Among the 122 high-profile signatories of the letter are Pfizer Chairman Albert Bouria and Tishman Speyer CEO Rob Speyer.

“The New York business community is deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the continued flow of asylum-seekers into our country,” the letter states.

They believe issuing work visas to asylum-seekers will help alleviate New York State’s labor shortage.

“There are labor shortages in many US industries, where employers are prepared to offer training and jobs to individuals who are authorized to work in the United States,” the business leaders wrote, adding that, “The business community is also providing in-kind assistance and philanthropic support to organizations that are addressing the immediate needs of this largely destitute population.”