The Biden administration’s sensible new policy for asylum seekers — requiring them to submit applications in Latin American countries before arriving — seems to have preempted a wave of migration to the border, at least for now. But what about those the US has already legally admitted into the country, who are being blocked from doing what the American economy needs them to do: work?

Take, for example, migrants admitted under humanitarian parole. Under current policy, they can’t work until they go through a backlogged authorization process that can last a year or more. With few other options, migrants barred from working legally may turn to under-the-table work or government relief programs, costing taxpayers money, straining local and state budgets, and fostering dependencies that run counter to the history of US immigration. Meanwhile, US companies are struggling to find workers, with 1.6 open jobs per available unemployed worker.

NYC Hotels Shelters

Recent immigrants to the United States lie on the sidewalk with their belongings as they talk to city officials in front of the Watson Hotel in New York, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. AP file photo

President Joe Biden can solve this problem by taking executive action to allow these migrants, who have been legally admitted into the country, to work legal jobs immediately — just as tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who have arrived in the US since 2021 have been able to. The rationale is the same: People admitted into the country by US authorities should not be denied the chance to work, which only hurts taxpayers, companies and the broader economy.

Democratic mayors around the country, who are some of Biden’s strongest allies, have been frustrated by the administration’s failure to offer them much help as thousands of migrants arrive in their cities with little means of legally supporting themselves.

“To deny people the ability to work legally,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams, “sets them up for failure.” This week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul stood with Adams and echoed that idea: “We have a historic labor shortage,” she said. “We also have this unprecedented influx of individuals arriving in New York” who want to work. She urged the Biden administration to help the state solve both problems at once.

Granting work authorization to those here on humanitarian parole isn’t the only step the administration can take. A variety of options are available, including expanding the list of countries eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).


Critics will argue that this strategy could encourage more migrants to come to the border. But more powerful incentives — especially the shelter that cities like New York are required to provide — already exist, as do opportunities to work in the underground economy. Moving legally admitted migrants into on-the-books jobs would help the federal government keep track of their whereabouts while also ensuring that they pay their fair share of taxes.

To be sure, this is an imperfect solution. But so long as Congress refuses to fix a badly broken immigration system — including by increasing visas for the kinds of workers US companies need, from agricultural to high-tech — migrants will continue coming in large numbers, and it will be up to the White House, in partnership with cities and states, to make the best of the situation.

Voters in both parties agree that work is at the heart of the immigration experience. The White House should not stand in the way of upholding a tradition that has brought the nation so many benefits.


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