New York, looking to boost work opportunities for migrants, relaxes some requirements

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By Dan Sears

New York state government has relaxed the minimum requirements for some hard-to-recruit, entry-level jobs, with the goal of opening up thousands of positions to new migrants facing barriers to employment.

The state Civil Service Commission approved the plan, backed by the Hochul administration and potentially making thousands of jobs available to migrants, at a special meeting on Jan. 18. It would partly address a persistent complaint of migrants and their advocates – that more needs to be done to get new arrivals working.

“As I’ve talked about the migrant crisis…I say we have a dual crisis,” Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters after an unrelated news conference in Albany, noting that more than 170,000 migrants have entered the state since spring of 2022.

“It’s a capacity issue,” she added, pointing to the challenges of providing for so many migrants in New York City and other communities. “But also I have a shortage-of-worker crisis.” The state’s unemployment rate was 4.5% in December.

The civil service panel, which controls state agency staffing, created seven “transitional” job titles that would apply to 4,000 hourly positions for food-service workers, office aides, custodians, and other positions, according to a memo from commission leaders. The initiative was first reported by Bloomberg.

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The new job roles would be temporary, and not change the requirements for permanent positions. Agencies have identified several potentially restrictive requirements that could be dropped in some cases, such as the need to verify workers’ education level or previous employment, or the ability to speak English, according to the memo.

Must have legal working status

The Hochul administration stressed that the new job titles would be open to everyone with legal working status – including citizens, green card holders and asylum seekers with working papers. The policy has not yet been implemented, according to Hochul spokesperson Avi Small.

New York private and public employers currently have over 460,000 unfilled jobs, including 10,000 in the state workforce, Small said. Last year, Hochul directed the state Department of Labor to connect migrants with potential employers, and announced in October that her administration had found 18,000 job openings across the state with over 400 employers willing to hire migrants with legal work status.

Mayor Eric Adams applauded the moves and suggested they could be replicated on the city level, including to help fill the city’s long-standing lifeguard shortage. Roped-off lanes and canceled swim programs were routine last summer as the Parks Department kicked off summer with about a third of the number of lifeguards it said were needed.

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“People need to work. Nothing is more anti-American than not having the right to work,” Adams said in a midday press conference.

Adams said the city has explored other options to get new migrants legally employed.

“What the governor is attempting to do, if it’s accurate, is to find creative ways to do so.” Adams added: “What can we do to allow people to work, so they’re not sitting around all day, every day?”

The state plan would not apply to the vast majority of new migrants who lack work permits, and face months-long delays to file asylum applications and receive authorization to work.

In the meanwhile, many new arrivals have resorted to off-the-books jobs—working as construction day laborers, delivery bike drivers, and restaurant staff—that many advocates say are ripe for wage theft and worker exploitation.

“The impetus still really is here on the federal government to provide those federal work authorizations as soon as possible,” Lisa Zornberg, chief counsel to the mayor, said. “Once a migrant receives federal work authorization, they can be hired by anyone—by any private employer or any public employer. That’s what federal authorization opens the door to.”

‘An encouraging sign’

Josh Goldfein, a Legal Aid staff attorney focused on asylum-seeker issues, said it was “an encouraging sign” that the governor had ramped up efforts to help new migrants find jobs, and that she sees the newcomers hungry for work as an “opportunity” to fix long-standing workforce gaps.

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Goldfein has long called on the state to do more to help the city house and care for newly arrived migrants. He said he hopes more such policies are on the horizon.

“People are going to continue to be coming,” Goldfein said. “We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and hope this goes away soon.”

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