Asylum seekers are ready to start working, but the law holds them back

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Some of the asylum seekers that arrived Monday night are already asking when they can start working. But under federal law, they have to wait.

When someone comes into the country seeking asylum, they can’t apply for a work permit until at least 180 days after submitting their asylum application.

But according to Congressman Joe Morelle, there’s a huge back log in processing that permit paperwork which usually delays the process even more. 

“They’re eager to work, they want to work, they came here in search of work,” Governor Kathy Hochul said.

Hochul says she’s been pushing the White House to change the work permitting process to allow asylees to get jobs sooner.

Morelle and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello also sent a similar request, encouraging the president to prioritize changes to asylee work rules as soon as possible. 

“We need people to work, we have work and labor shortages. And most people who are here seeking asylum want to work. So for me this is a win/win for everyone, but its going to take a lot of effort to get it to happen,” Morelle said.

And a lot of that effort is coming from RochesterWorks!.

“It think it’s incumbent on us to work together as a community to not just provide those employment avenues when they’re able to do so, but make sure they have the necessary supports to help remove certain barriers of employment that might be present,” Executive Director of RochesterWorks! David Seeley said.

A big issue that asylum seekers can face is the language barrier.

“In addition to employment services, teaching English as a second language classes is really a basic skill that we can provide to a lot of non-English speaking workers,” Seeley said.

The organization will also work to assess the skills asylees are bringing with them. 

“If a worker does have a skill, we look to see how that can translate into an in-demand occupation here. So that can be a whole host of industries — just making sure the training where they’re coming from is right, fitted to what we have here as far as credential and licensing,” Seeley said.

For now, New York City is supporting the asylum seekers with hotel, food, transportation and medical care. And a number of local non-profits have stepped up to fill in the gaps.