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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

DiNapoli: NYC Immigrant Workforce Below 2015 Peak

Federal Policies Still Weighing on City's Labor Force

March 21, 2024

The size of New York City’s immigrant workforce was flat over nearly a decade, according to a new report from New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Through 2023, the foreign-born labor market grew 18.5% since 2015 nationally, while New York City’s declined 0.6%, according to data analyzed from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, in 2023, New York City’s 1.8 million foreign-born workers made up 44.3% of its total labor force, more than double the national share of 18.6%.

“New York City’s labor market and economy greatly benefit from the contributions of immigrant workers,” DiNapoli said. “Many industries rely on foreign-born workers to keep businesses going, but we’ve seen a decline in this workforce when compared to the city’s peak in 2015. There are still many barriers for individuals who come to the U.S. looking for work and a better life. Federal immigration policy must be reformed to ensure that the economic prosperity that foreign-born workers have helped fuel in New York City can continue.”

Last year, New York City was down about 10,000 immigrant workers compared to 2015. Many industries in the city depend on these workers, including construction, where foreign-born workers made up almost 70% of all workers, while 65% worked in transportation and utilities, and nearly 55% worked in manufacturing last year. Compared to the city, the U.S. has a lower share of immigrant workers in these industries and others with 29% in construction, 21% in transportation and utilities and nearly 20% in manufacturing.

The foreign-born labor force in the city is also concentrated in industries that pay less than the private sector as a whole, such as health care and social assistance and accommodation and food services. Still, foreign-born workers contributed nearly $383 billion to the city’s economy in 2022. A diminished foreign-born workforce could hurt businesses and lead to less entrepreneurship and fewer jobs.

DiNapoli’s report notes federal immigration policies and the COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to the lack of growth in the city’s foreign-born workforce.

Pre-Pandemic Immigrant Labor Force Decline

Prior to the pandemic, several federal immigration policies may have disproportionately impacted the immigrant workforce in New York City. In 2017, a more stringent deportation policy was implemented. As a result, there was a 165% increase in immigrants living in New York City being sent back to the country from which they emigrated. The number of deportations grew from a low of 1,037 in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2016 to a high of nearly 2,800 in FFY 2019. During that time, fewer people obtained temporary or permanent visas to legally live and work in the U.S.

Also, federal changes to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) likely played a role in slowing the city’s immigrant labor force recovery. TPS allows people from other countries to live and work in the U.S. legally if fleeing war or a natural disaster, but in late 2017, the federal government ended the program for people coming to the U.S. from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Nepal and Honduras.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Immigrant Labor Force

The pandemic halted visas and travel generally to the U.S. In addition, many industries that involve face-to-face contact employ a larger share of immigrant workers. Workers not born in the U.S. faced a higher unemployment rate than native-born New Yorkers in 2020, and by 2023, the portion of these foreign-born workers who were not U.S. citizens still had double the unemployment rate than in 2019.

Post-Pandemic Recovery Remains Uneven

Previous reports by the Comptroller show young workers are experiencing the highest unemployment rates in New York City when compared to older workers. In 2023, the unemployment rate was 15% for 16-to-24-year-old immigrant workers, which was up from 10% in 2019. Older adults born outside the U.S., however, have seen improved unemployment rates since the pandemic and have found work at a greater rate than older native-born New Yorkers.

More Immigrant Workers Pursuing Self-Employment

The number of people self-employed since 2019 increased in New York City, surpassing the national average in 2023 with more than 10% of the workforce becoming new entrepreneurs. Foreign-born workers in the City made up nearly 49% of the self-employed population whereas nationally, they made up only 23% in 2023.

DiNapoli recommended:

  • The city do more to support all younger workers, including immigrants, by advertising and uplifting the Summer Youth Employment Program, which is open to residents 14 to 24 with work authorization.
  • The state Department of Labor improve how it evaluates and reports which employers hire asylum seekers and which jobs are accepted.
  • The city make business ownership easier for foreign-born workers by eliminating language, literacy and technological barriers along with increasing financial education and eliminating bureaucratic red tape.
  • City agencies provide necessary and timely resources for residents to succeed in the workforce.
  • The federal government speed up court processing and work permits and increase aid to the state and city for asylum seekers.

New York City’s Uneven Recovery: Foreign-Born in the Workforce 
One Page Summary: Foreign-Born in the Workforce in NYC

Other related work 
New York City’s Uneven Recovery: An Analysis of Labor Force Trends 
New York City’s Uneven Recovery: Youth Labor Force Struggling 
New York City's Uneven Recovery: Mothers in the Workforce