Posted on May 14, 2019

Luring Refugees: New York Cities Desperate for People Try a New Strategy

Christina Goldbaum, New York Times, May 13, 2019

Over the last few decades, as a manufacturing decline left homes vacant and storefronts dark, New York’s upstate cities opened their doors to refugees. The influx, while modest, gave new life to neighbourhoods, helped alleviate labor shortages and shored up city budgets.

But that rejuvenating bounce for cities such as Utica, Buffalo and Syracuse ended after the Trump administration drastically cut the number of refugees allowed into the country. {snip}

Now, some are testing out a new strategy: luring refugees who have settled in other parts of the United States to move to New York. They are advertising job placement, English language and housing services, hoping to draw enough people to offset the shortfall.

New York is not alone in trying novel ways to reverse its dwindling population. Maine, for example, has offered an outstretched hand to refugees in hope of expanding its workforce. Vermont has dangled $10,000 grants to entice people to move to the state and work from home, in a bid to attract young tech workers. And Wyoming is trying to woo people born there back home by deploying recruiters to help them find jobs.

{snip} In New York, the state stepped in and has been funding those agencies since 2017. They now can provide services to more refugees, an incentive for people to move to New York from elsewhere.


Since assuming office, Trump has sharply reduced the number of refugees. The cap was set at 30,000 this fiscal year, down from 110,000 in the last fiscal year of the Obama administration. It is the lowest ceiling a president has ever placed on refugee admissions.


“The real fear for upstate cities is that if we don’t keep our population growing, we will fall into an endless cycle of decline,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “We’re not at that tipping point yet, but we are very close.”

Between 1950 and 2000, Rochester and Syracuse lost roughly 30% of their populations, Utica lost about 40% of inhabitants and Buffalo lost half its residents, according to the New York state comptroller’s office. Buffalo’s decline was the fourth highest nationwide.

But as refugees moved into abandoned homes and leased empty storefronts, deserted neighborhoods in these cities started to transform — although these towns have not seen enough growth to reach population numbers of nearly 70 years ago.

Today, Buffalo’s Grant Street, which was once near vacant, bustles with supermarkets and craft stores that serve many of the immigrants who have moved into the surrounding neighborhood. The street’s West Side Bazaar, a popular lunch and shopping spot, is filled with vendors who sell hand-woven tapestries and beaded jewelry, while the smell of Ethiopian spices and Malaysian ramen from its food court waft through the room.

Across town on the East Side — notorious 30 years ago for its crime — a Bengali community helped turn apartments that had housed brothels into community-oriented spaces.


“We couldn’t grow as a business without them because we would be scrambling to find staff,” said Larry Christ, chief operating officer at Litelab Corp., a lighting manufacturer in Buffalo, where about a third of the workforce are immigrants, including recently arrived refugees.