Finding employment solutions for local asylum seekers

Creating an action plan for asylum seekers in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The goal Thursday morning at United Way was creating an action plan for the asylum seekers in Rochester.

Faith leaders, business representatives, and local legislators met with several nonprofits throughout the region to come up with employment solutions for them.

News10NBC’s Hailie Higgins was at the discussion. Asylum seekers want to work. That was the message from speakers at United Way.

Most of the asylum seekers who came to Rochester last summer are still waiting to get their work authorization forms. Part of Thursday was figuring out how to help get paperwork squared away. The other part was finding out which employers could benefit from hiring these people.

“Every single person in the business community has said, ‘We need skilled workers. We need people to fill the vacancies we have. We have an employee shortage in our economy,'” says Democratic Assemblyman Harry Bronson.

Bronson and other community leaders were gathered by a statewide nonprofit, the Ellis Island Initiative. The nonprofit works to help communities with a complex problem: integrating asylum seekers and other migrants.

Part of that problem is combating negative stereotypes.

“Just to turn that narrative and shift that narrative on asylum seekers and really focus on the economic benefits, we all stand to reap once they are fully acclimated into our community,” says Dave Seeley, executive director for RochesterWorks.

“I visit these families myself and have conversations with them,” explains Angie Perez-Delgado, CEO of Ibero-American Action League. “They say, ‘I don’t want help. I want to work.'”

Nationwide, there are shortages in many industries, like healthcare and education.  

“This can be an opportunity for New York State, a historic opportunity to fill key open workforce jobs, to take advantage of the investment that’s happened, to pump resources into local communities,” says Steven Choi, lead strategist for Ellis Island Initiative.

Hailie sat down with Aaron Metris, the owner of Salena’s. He was at United Way, representing the New York State Restaurant Association.

“Every time that we’ve hired somebody that is a first-generation immigrant that is new to the country, they have been hard working and dedicated and generally amazing employees,” says Metris. “So it’s always been a very positive experience.”

But with fewer than two hundred asylum seekers here in Rochester, he’s not trying to specifically target these employees.

“For the workforce of Rochester, I don’t think that’s really… that’s kind of a drop in the bucket,” Metis explains.   

RochesterWorks CEO Dave Seeley told Hailie there’s no exact timeline or specific day every asylum seeker will become eligible to work. But the goal is to prepare now, so that the day those papers come through, they can start filling gaps in our workforce with people who need the opportunities.