Yesterday, the Biden administration announced new actions to help get recent immigrants to work, including offering almost half a million Venezuelans a status that will let them live and work in the U.S. legally for the next 18 months. The new measures come at a critical time, as labor shortages persist and cities struggle to provide for newcomers.

Certain Venezuelan migrants are eligible for temporary protected status (TPS), a designation offered to migrants who can’t safely return to their home countries due to armed conflict, environmental disaster, or another temporary safety hazard. Venezuela was first designated for TPS in 2021 due to a severe political and economic crisis perpetuated by Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Under that designation, Venezuelans who came to the U.S. before March 2021 qualified for protection; now, the status will apply to Venezuelans who arrived before the end of July this year. There are currently 16 countries designated for TPS.

Roughly 472,000 Venezuelans are newly eligible for TPS, in addition to some 242,700 Venezuelans who were already eligible. TPS beneficiaries aren’t removable, and importantly, they’re given the opportunity to obtain work authorization.

Lack of work authorization for migrants has been a particular thorn in the side of Democratic politicians, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “Our administration and our partners across the city have led the calls to ‘Let Them Work,'” Adams said following the Biden administration’s announcement, calling the TPS designation an “important step.” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called it “one of our top priorities.”

The Biden administration announced a raft of other immigration and border enforcement measures yesterday, including harsh actions like deploying military personnel to the border and expanding family deportations. But the new work measures are promising. Certain migrants—asylum seekers and refugees among them—will now be eligible for work permits that are good for five years, up from the current validity period of two years. This will mean fewer renewal applications and will “reduce the associated workload and processing times,” per a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release.

The administration is also aiming for quicker review of work authorization requests filed by migrants who enter the country through mobile app appointments or through the private sponsorship program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. DHS says it’s aiming to improve the median processing time for those work authorization applications from 90 days to 30 days. U.S. immigration agencies have long struggled to efficiently process various kinds of applications, so it remains to be seen whether those improvements will happen.

However, in the absence of broader immigration reform spearheaded by Congress, these are welcome actions. Getting immigrants to work is an obvious economic good—the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate there are 8.8 million job openings in the country—and it’ll also reduce the burden of government spending. The Biden administration has sent nearly $770 million to localities to help fund services for new arrivals. Without a clear legal pathway to employment, many migrants simply wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves and turn away from city-provided services. Encouraging migrant self-sufficiency is particularly important in New York City, which has a “right-to-shelter” law that has proven costly.

There’s still much work to be done to reform the immigration system, reduce chaos at the border, and improve processing for the migrants who want to live peaceful and prosperous lives here. But the Biden administration deserves credit for its recent moves to help get migrants to work.

Fiona Harrigan

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