Over 37,000 migrants applied for asylum and work authorization through city help centers

While New York City has increased legal assistance for asylum-seekers after opening a help center devoted to helping migrants apply for asylum and work authorization, the City Council expressed concerns Tuesday about a lack of funding included in the 2025 fiscal preliminary budget.

Council Member Alexa Avilés held an Immigration Committee hearing on March 5, 2024.

Council Member Alexa Avilés held an Immigration Committee hearing on March 5, 2024. John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

More than 37,714 migrants have applied for asylum and work authorization through the New York City Asylum Application Help Center and its satellite sites since they opened over the summer, city officials said on Tuesday. That represents marked progress compared to the city’s earlier attempts to help migrants, though it is still less than a quarter of the total number of asylum-seekers who have arrived in the city since spring 2022.

City officials presented the latest numbers to New York City Council members during an Immigration Committee hearing centered on how Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year addresses the needs of both existing immigrants and new migrant arrivals – a population that together comprises nearly 40% of the city’s population, according to Immigration Committee Chair Alexa Avilés. 

While Tuesday’s hearing was the first specifically honing in on the Office of Asylum-Seeker Operations and the Office of Immigrant Affairs since Adams unveiled his $109.4 billion preliminary budget in January, city spending on migrants was also a central topic during Monday’s Committee on Finance hearing, which kicked off the months-long budget negotiation process. Forecasting billions in additional revenue, council members urged the city to reverse spending cuts – cuts the Adams administration had largely blamed on costs associated with services for asylum-seekers.

Advocates and the City Council have long urged the city to bolster its efforts to help migrants apply for work permits and asylum, and Avilés reiterated that call on Tuesday while noting that the mayor’s proposed budget “substantially” reduces funding for immigrant legal services and adult literacy programs. She and the Immigration Committee have urged the Adams administration to include an additional $150 million in the budget to enhance immigrant legal services and to bolster funding for adult literacy programming.

While the city’s plan to help migrants apply for asylum and work permits got off to a slow start, things started to pick up with the launch of the Asylum Application Help Center, which opened at the Midtown Red Cross headquarters in July.

Molly Schaeffer, director of the Office of Asylum-Seeker Operations, told the City Council that more than 11,630 asylum applications, more than 15,349 work authorization applications and over 10,475 Temporary Protected Status applications have been filed through the center. In September, the Biden administration redesignated Temporary Protected Status to include Venezuelans. 

Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro said his office is currently advocating for the federal government to also grant Ecuadorian migrants Temporary Protected Status, which could significantly aid further aid progress. 

At a meeting in October, City Council members expressed concerns about how the city’s 30 and 60-day shelter limit policy could undermine the already difficult process of applying for asylum. Members and immigrant advocates worried that asylum-seekers would have to file changes of address with every new shelter placement in order to continue receiving information and updates from the federal government about their asylum applications.

Fortunately, the city is taking steps to make this easier for migrants. Schaeffer said that nearly every migrant shelter has begun holding on to important mail like social security cards and work permits “indefinitely,” which will allow people to return to shelters where they previously stayed and receive updates about their asylum status and other crucial notices. The city plans to roll out the change at the remaining shelter sites within the next couple of weeks, according to Schaeffer.

Even with migrants applying for asylum in far greater numbers, advocates fear that many migrants are bound to miss their window to apply without the investment of additional legal resources. The process is extremely complicated, and migrants generally only have 12 months to submit their applications. Individuals who are granted Temporary Protected Status need to renew their applications every 18 months. 

In addition to the $11 million for the Asylum Application Help Center included in the mayor’s preliminary budget, Schaeffer said the state has committed $40 million toward legal services for asylum-seekers, which she said will hopefully aid the center in expanding operations. 

When asked repeatedly to detail what the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is advocating for in the latest budget pertaining to legal services, Castro declined to offer specifics, saying discussions are ongoing with City Hall and the mayor's Office of Management and Budget.

“I know these conversations are tough, but we have to hold a standard of excellence. What we see often is what is playing on the ground doesn’t necessarily reflect what we’re talking about and how we’re characterizing the situation, ” Avilés said.

Tuesday’s hearing comes at the start of what will be a months-long process to negotiate and finalize the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Other city council committees will hold their own preliminary budget hearings throughout March, followed by the Adams administration’s presentation of its executive budget proposal in April. Another round of council hearings will follow before the administration and City Council will be required to agree on or by June 30.