New York City

New data: Demand for IDNYC cards increased during migrant influx

Asylum-seekers had been struggling to get appointments, but that shortage has begun to ease in recent weeks.

Then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched IDNYC in 2015. Demand for the cards has increased in the past two years.

Then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched IDNYC in 2015. Demand for the cards has increased in the past two years. Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

Pointing to an ongoing swell in demand tied to the influx of new asylum-seeking arrivals, a handful of New York City Council members have recently offered their offices to host pop-up sites for people wanting to sign up for the IDNYC municipal identification card.

“I’m willing to give up my desk if I need to if that will help find a temporary home for these pop-ups,” Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala said at a recent City Council hearing. “I think that they’re essential.”

From helping New Yorkers open accounts at certain banks to giving them a way to identify themself to police and enter schools, the city-issued photo ID cards have long been an important tool for New Yorkers lacking other forms of government-issued identification. And demand for the cards is soaring. 

In the first eight months of fiscal year 2024 – which covers July 2023 to February 2024 – the city issued 123,419 IDNYC cards compared to 117,389 in the same period the year prior. During the first eight months of fiscal year 2022, the city issued 106,919 cards. Despite the increase in demand, 95% of IDNYC applications have been processed in a timely manner this fiscal year.

As the card is available to everyone 10 years old and up regardless of immigration status, the program has helped many undocumented New Yorkers participate in city life while they await a change in their immigration status or permission to work – especially over the past year and a half as tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in the city.

Council members offered their offices to officials from the New York City Department of Social Services, which oversees IDNYC, at a budget hearing on May 6, frustrated by what they said was a lack of appointments and sites for people to enroll in the program. There are currently 10 permanent sites operating in the city – only one of which is in the Bronx. Manhattan and Brooklyn each have three, Queens has two and Staten Island has one, according to the IDNYC website. Gothamist reported earlier this year that DSS had been quietly shuttering centers since New York City Mayor Eric Adams took office, consolidating smaller sites into larger facilities “to maximize capacity.”

“IDNYC is a lifeline for New Yorkers, but it remains inaccessible for countless people who can’t secure an appointment. I have called on the Adams administration to increase capacity by opening new enrollment sites to accommodate working New Yorkers,” Council Member Julie Won told City & State. Her office hosted a pop-up enrollment event on May 17 to help meet the growing demand.

Ongoing demand

Advocates have said that the volume of new arrivals to the city coupled with the lack of appointment slots has, at times, caused delays in securing the card. In some instances, misinformation about what the card can be used for has also fueled desperation. In January, some migrants waited in line overnight outside a Brooklyn city office hoping to secure a rare walk-in appointment after they heard the card was a necessary step toward finding legal employment. (The city stopped offering walk-in appointments a few weeks later to prevent people from waiting in the cold. Appointments can now only be made online or by calling 311.)

Over the past couple months, the Adams administration has taken steps to streamline the IDNYC process and increase the number of appointments to better meet demand. At a City Council budget hearing, the Department of Social Services said it has begun releasing 7,100 appointments every Friday afternoon, which are available for the following week – up from 6,800 slots.

Some appointments haven’t been filled in recent weeks, according to Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park. “What we are seeing varies a little bit week to week, but generally there’s still appointments left Monday whether it’s a couple of a dozen or a couple hundred,” she told the council.

Department officials said they are “actively looking” at identifying another standalone enrollment center in the Bronx.

Council members attributed the left over appointments to the distribution of enrollment centers and a lack of education about their existence. At its peak, there were 29 enrollment centers located at nonprofits, hospitals, and libraries throughout the city in 2017, Gothamist reported. Seventeen locations were open as of July 2022, but that number has since fallen to 10 – the lowest number since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Theodore Moore, executive director of Alliance for a Greater New York and former vice president of policy and programs at the New York Immigration Coalition, said only having one site in the Bronx was a “huge oversight.”

“I definitely think there could be some rethinking around the amount of sites around the city, extending it back to more agencies so that people are able to access applications throughout the neighborhoods,” he said.

City Council Member Lincoln Restler, who helped start the IDNYC program nearly a decade ago, said, “We could expand capacity if there was political will to do so and meet the demand that exists.”

Department of Social Services officials contend that consolidating sites has allowed the city to issue a greater number of cards.

“As demand for IDNYC cards remains high, the IDNYC program has increased the availability of appointments by maximizing operational efficiencies and working with our community partners and elected officials to bring pop-up enrollment events into the community,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. 

Data from the department has shown an increased number of cards issued, although distribution does vary month to month. For instance, by far the greatest number of cards were issued in December 2023 with 21,054 recorded. A department spokesperson did not respond to a question to explain the cause of the outlier. In September 2022 and 2023, 16,440 and 19,808 cards were issued, respectively, at the start of the school year.

Sheyna Molina, a benefits specialist with the nonprofit Center for Family Life, has been helping her clients sign up for IDNYC appointments. A few months ago, slots for the week ran out minutes after they were released each Friday. She has noticed greater availability in recent weeks. At the same time though, more of her clients – many of whom are new asylum-seeking arrivals – have been rejected for an IDNYC card because they haven’t had the proper documentation.

To receive a card, applicants need to prove their identity and residency in New York City. Documents like a New York state driver’s license, a utility bill, a current lease, a recent bank account statement and a letter from a homeless shelter or city agency can prove the latter, but new arrivals have struggled to get a letter from shelters because they are moving frequently – particularly in wake of the implementation of the 30- and 60-day shelter stay limits, according to Molina. She hopes the city will find a way to help migrants lacking documentation still receive a card.

“You have no idea the faces of my clients,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the reaction they have when they are approved and able to walk around with an ID. I’ve said this before, but it’s like they won the lottery. It’s a very big deal for them.”

Greater awareness

Since then-Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the IDNYC program in 2015, more than 2.11 million cards have been issued, according to Adams’ January Mayor Management Report. Having billed it at the time as “a gateway to city services” and a way to provide New Yorkers “with the dignity and peace of mind they deserve,” the card’s benefits have broadened over the years. New Yorkers can also use their IDNYC card to apply for jobs if they also provide proof of work authorization and apply for affordable housing and reduced public transportation fares. Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jessica Ramos seeks to further broaden the card’s usefulness by amending state banking law to require all state-chartered banks to accept IDNYC as a primary form of identification. Currently, large commercial banks like Citibank, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. don’t allow the card as a primary ID to open an account.

Moore said he’s glad the city has increased the number of appointments amid higher demand, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to increase awareness that the cards exist. He and other advocates contend that with the amount of people who are eligible and would greatly benefit from a card, awareness is still low. He remembers that when the program was first rolled out, ads for IDNYC were all over buses, trains and shelters. With enrollment sites shuttered for months, getting an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic was extremely difficult.

The City Council passed legislation last year requiring the New York City Department of Education to help high school students access IDNYC cards by providing them with information on the program, enrollment and the application form.

“We just need more public awareness that it’s back, it’s easier to make an appointment now, and let people know the benefits of the card itself,” Moore said.