Op-ed | Immigrants need faster access to work authorization so they can support themselves and contribute to our communities

City Council Speaker Adams speaks about the right-to-shelter law City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
City Council Speaker Adams speaks about the right-to-shelter law City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
Photo by William Alatriste/NYC Council

As humanitarian conditions have worsened across the world, we are seeing global migration on the rise. In the western hemisphere, we have seen millions displaced due to conflict, government collapse, climate impacts, and increasing violence.

Tens of thousands from the global south have made the dangerous and arduous trek on foot, walking thousands of miles to get to our southern border seeking refuge and safety. Over the last year, New York City has received over 100,000 people seeking asylum in the country, with nearly 60,000 remaining in the city’s care. The vast majority are seeking pathways to self-sufficiency through work.

Yet while the demand for jobs exists and employers throughout the city have expressed their desire to hire workers, the lack of federal work authorization has prohibited new arrivals from working. This has forced our newest New Yorkers into the informal economy, where they can be exploited and in need of already-stretched social services to meet basic needs. This is one of many important issues that needs to be urgently addressed.

As newcomers continue to arrive, there are many adjustments that can shift our response towards a sustainable one. In addition to our city’s stakeholders coming together to advance a plan with long-term solutions, there is a need for greater and more immediate support from the federal government.

One concrete way for the federal government to support New York and localities across the country is to provide immigration relief and faster access to work authorization so migrants can support themselves and contribute to our communities and economy – as they navigate the arcane immigration courts. As conditions in home countries continue to deteriorate and worsen, President Biden can and must utilize Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to chart a path towards expedited work authorization.

Since 1990, the federal government has utilized TPS to allow migrants, whose home countries have been deemed unsafe, to work and reside legally in the United States for 18 months. Today, nearly 500,000 migrants are covered under TPS – those with the designated status and eligible for it contribute $22 billion annually to our national economy.

The Biden Administration can utilize its executive power to immediately designate, redesignate, and renew TPS for Venezuela, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mali, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, and Nepal to quickly provide pathways to success for migrants and municipalities like New York City.

Looking solely at Venezuela as an example, a country that overwhelmingly meets the statutory requirements of the program, we can see how beneficial the impact of TPS action could be on our economy and city.

Among the tens of thousands of migrants that New York City has welcomed, an estimated 65% come from Venezuela, fleeing the dangers of poverty, state-sponsored violence, and repression. Venezuelans who are potentially eligible for TPS already contribute $8.3 billion to the economy annually and participate in the workforce at a rate of 75 percent.

Back in 2021, the Biden Administration designated Venezuela for TPS in response to “a complex humanitarian crisis” within the country. The federal government extended this original designation as an acknowledgement of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela that has forced more people to flee their homes. A redesignation now would simply update the cutoff date for the program to give tens of thousands of Venezuelans here the ability to work as they move through the asylum process. This would bring immediate relief for people seeking economic stability and the communities in which they live.

The Biden Administration should confer TPS to the countries that qualify and extend it for existing countries, including through redesignation, designation, and renewal for those previously mentioned countries.

Economic mobility is tied to social prosperity, and it is in our best interest to expand opportunities for people so that they can lead safe, dignified, and independent lives. This new migration can be a boon to our workforce, especially given the widespread labor shortages affecting industries throughout our country. For New York City, TPS designation would help alleviate our overburdened shelter and social service systems, delivering necessary relief to our social infrastructure.

With so many lives at stake, all levels of government must come together and utilize every tool at their disposal to alleviate this crisis.

Each generation has figured out how to integrate immigrants and refugees with the help of government, and we have become a stronger nation because of it. This recent migration to the United States is not entirely unique and must be harnessed to contribute towards our economic growth and recovery.

It would be a grave mistake to continue casting immigration as a threat or simply a cost. We are a nation sustained by immigrants.

Throughout our city’s history, immigrants have enriched our culture, economy, and communities. When we last faced a fiscal crisis and an exodus of New Yorkers, it was immigrants who played a key role in growing our population and fueling the city’s economy. We are in a similar situation today and must leverage this advantage.

For both humanitarian and economic reasons, it is in our best interest to designate Temporary Protected Status to people here from countries in life-threatening strife and clear the way for asylum seekers to contribute to our economy.

As one of several solutions that the federal government must implement, President Biden should take immediate action through TPS designation to remove the restrictions that are holding back needed contributions to our city, economy, and nation that asylum seekers are ready to deliver.

Adrienne Adams is the speaker of the New York City Council

Murad Awawdeh is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition