New York City officials are pushing the federal government to make it easier for asylum seekers to work legally in this country, but experts say an enormous backlog in applicants awaiting work permits could complicate that task.

Councilmember Gale Brewer wrote to Ur M. Jaddou, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, urging USCIS to clear the backlog so that asylum applicants can find jobs “as quickly as possible.”

“As of August 25, 2022, New York City has received over 7,300 individuals seeking asylum,” wrote Brewer. “I greeted asylum seekers at the Port Authority Bus Station, welcoming them to New York City. I can assure you that they are ready and able to work.”

In an interview with Gothamist, Brewer said she’d heard from employers in the retail and restaurant sectors, who were looking to hire potential workers.

The economy is ready for these workers. They just need the working papers.
City Councilmember Gale Brewer

“The economy is ready for these workers,” said Brewer “They just need the working papers.”

Brewer also said she’d been in conversation with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who she said expressed interest that some asylum applicants “go to other parts of the state.”

Gillibrand’s office did not confirm the senator’s comments, and it’s uncertain that the federal government will respond.

By some accounts, delays by USCIS have caused problems for elected officials across the country, as they respond to concerns from constituents, as well as employers who depend on immigrant labor and are struggling to recruit workers in a tight market.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., told Roll Call that his office had seen an 85% increase in casework related to USCIS over the last five years, and expressed frustration that cases were allowed to “drag on in perpetuity.”

Ben Simpson, a senior associate at Cohen Forman Barone law firm who specializes in immigration law, said the backlog of asylum applicants who sought work authorizations ran into the “tens of thousands,” a problem that stemmed in part from the shutdown of offices during the pandemic as well as “resource allocation” within the federal government.

“It's an enormous problem across the board with USCIS,” said Simpson.

A spokesperson for USCIC did not respond to questions about the backlog and attempts to quicken work authorizations.