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Will expedited work permits solve NYC's migrant crisis?

Having a secure border on the agenda anywhere? Not to worry Mayor more new residents are on the way. In the meantime, who exactly gets a work permit? The existing immigrants who've been living in NYC for years or the new guys?

Work permits won’t magically solve NYC’s migrant crisis — they’ll make it worse

By Nicole Gelinas

Published Sep. 4, 2023

Updated Sep. 4, 2023, 6:52 p.m. ET

Mayor Adams speaking at rally calling for the federal government to authorize work visas for newly arrived migrants in New York City on August 31, 2023.

After weeks of fighting, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams finally agreed with each other on how to fix the migrant crisis.

The answer, they said last week, is faster work permits from Washington.

When these two agree on something to do with migrants, you know it’s probably wrong.

“We must expedite work visas,” Adams said Thursday at a Lower Manhattan rally. “We’re calling on our national leaders.”

The fact he had to show up to protest President Joe Biden in making this request isn’t the greatest sign of any breakthrough in cooperation from DC.

Hochul isn’t faring better.

She went to Washington to make the same request — but couldn’t even score a meeting with the president.

It’s just as well Biden isn’t listening because Adams and Hochul don’t have a case.

The argument is that the sooner migrants can work, the sooner the city can relieve itself of the burden of sheltering 60,000 newcomers.

Therefore, the White House should ask Congress to suspend requirements that migrants wait six months to apply for a work permit, after having applied for asylum.

One flaw in this strategy is the White House cannot control the border now.

Is Biden going to do a better job after Congress has created a huge new incentive to come?

Another flaw is that many migrants are working, despite not being allowed.

Sidewalks and streets surrounding the Roosevelt, the Row and the Watson hotels have become informal dispatch centers for Uber Eats and DoorDash.

As The City news outlet reported, migrants also “are rapidly finding places in New York City’s voracious off-the-books economy,” in restaurants and construction, “like generations of immigrants” before.

Before the city’s current migrant crisis began in 2022, the United States was home to some 11 million unauthorized immigrants, most of them working. Half a million lived in New York City.

But this immigrant population housed itself, renting apartments and rooms.

Why did tens of thousands of them not show up at city shelters?

Simple: The city hadn’t previously opened welcome center after welcome center and converted hotel after hotel into shelter.

When the mayor shows up to the Port Authority and welcomes migrants seeking shelter “with open arms,” more migrants will expect such treatment.

Another problem with issuing work permits to new migrants is: What about the old migrants? If you’ve been toiling for years as a dishwasher or housekeeper, shouldn’t you get a work permit, too?

Claims of asylum notwithstanding, most people who came here 10 or 20 years ago came for the same reason people came a month ago: job opportunities.

Awarding newcomers work permits inevitably means rewarding existing migrants work permits.

That means migrant workers at all job levels, including high-skilled, high-paid jobs.

Why should Google or Microsoft go through the trouble of applying for scarce skilled-worker visas when well-educated applicants could fly here and claim asylum and work for a decade before the government gets around to judging the claim? Most of the world is troubled in some way.

And what is the US government going to do in 2035 when it judges an asylum seeker who applied back in 2023 wasn’t eligible for asylum — deport her?

Quick work permits for migrants is unfair way to make crisis worse

So what Adams and Hochul are asking for isn’t a limited, emergency measure.

It’s a vast, retroactive, no-questions-asked amnesty for all unauthorized workers, of all skill and education levels, past, current and future.

Advocates of work permits on demand argue that the country needs workers. “There are labor shortages in many U.S. industries,” business leaders wrote last week.

But New York already has a skills mismatch between unemployed people and the jobs available.

The state has one of the highest ratios in the country of people seeking work vs. job openings.

And the city’s private sector has had one of the nation’s slowest post-COVID recoveries, only returning to 2019 job totals this March, a year behind the country.

It’s not clear that what the lowest-wage workers need is more low-wage workers to compete against them.

But Hochul and Adams should be clear: Fully open borders are exactly what they’re asking for.

And they’re doing it not on principled libertarian grounds but because they’ve made themselves a mess with the city’s right-to-shelter policy.

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