Lynn organizations support migrants’ right to work

LYNN — Amidst a migrant crisis and a labor shortage, Gov. Maura Healy sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security last week requesting changes to the work authorization process for migrants.

“We have an influx of migrant families unable to obtain authorization and we have a serious shortage of workers,” Paul Ventresca, Executive Director of MassHire North Shore Career Center, said. “We have an answer here, we just need to deal with it and address it.”

In her letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Healey said changes would allow migrants to quickly and immediately apply for work authorization when the law allows it, rather than waiting out long and bureaucratic processing procedures that could take months.

Natasha Soolkn, Executive Director of the New American Association of Massachusetts, which is based in Lynn, said depending on a migrant’s status, it could take as long as a year to go through the process of applying for and obtaining authorization, a process that can exaggerate the issues in the shelters.

“When they come to this country, the main thing they need is to have the ability to work and provide for themselves and get skills, and at least try to be self-sufficient,” Soolkn said. “We cannot talk about getting them out of shelters until they have employment authorization.”

Lynn Shelter Association (LSA) CEO Mark Evans, whose organization assists people, including migrants, facing housing emergencies, said many of those LSA works with are frustrated by the authorization process, which often leaves them stuck in the shelter system.

“Being in a shelter in and of itself is pretty traumatizing,” Evans said. “There’s clearly a desire to work and to be productive citizens and to be independent. They don’t want to live in our shelters.”

Healey’s requested regulatory changes included an immediate shift in how DHS interprets the statutory rules for authorizing migrants, as well as accelerating the digitization of the immigration process and building better connectivity between the information collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Soolkn noted that the Commonwealth has many opportunities for job placement and training programs, but migrants still aren’t able to take advantage of them until they receive authorization.

MassHire is one of the organizations offering job training programs. 

Mary Sarris, executive director of the MassHire North Shore Workforce Board, said it was frustrating for the programs not to be offered to migrants as a way for them to be prepared to enter the workforce when they receive authorization.

“Right now, unless you have your working approval, we cannot serve you in any of our training programs,” Sarris said. “It would kind of make sense to, at least, be giving them skills so that when their work authorization comes, they are much more ready to go to work.”

She added there have been opportunities like free English language classes that have been offered as a means to prepare migrants for the workforce, and noted that there have been discussions about how more training opportunities could be offered without the need for authorization.

According to Sarris, the Commonwealth currently has around three jobs open for every unemployed person.

She noted the important roles immigrants have had in the Commonwealth, especially in fields like healthcare and manufacturing.

“The Massachusetts labor force and its growth have, for the longest time, been fueled by immigrants,” Sarris said.

Soolkn said she was hopeful that more opportunities would be available for migrants to take advantage of when they come into the country and in the Bay State in order to allow them to advance and live independently.

“Their journey is sometimes endless…They go through different countries to make it here. They face violence, they face hunger,” Soolkn said. “Finally, they make it to their destination and they cannot do anything because they cannot work.”

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