Published On: March 10, 202341.9 min read920 words

City to Offer Alternative Summer Career Program Open to Undocumented Youth

City Limits

By Daniel Parra

The city will offer a work-readiness training program this summer open to undocumented youth, City Limits has learned—answering calls from advocates and lawmakers who’ve been pushing for an alternative to the popular Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), for which undocumented students aren’t eligible.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office. Mayor Adams at a kickoff event for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) last year. Undocumented students aren’t eligible for SYEP.

The city will offer a work-readiness training program this summer open to undocumented youth, City Limits has learned—answering calls from advocates and lawmakers who’ve been pushing for an alternative to the popular Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), for which undocumented students aren’t eligible.

The plan will continue an initiative the city quietly began last year, when the New York City Education Department (DOE) partnered with the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) on a pilot internship program that ran almost in parallel to the popular Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), from July 11 through August 19, 2022, for students 14-21 years old (in contrast, SYEP accepts young people between 14 and 24.)

The pilot was not offered exclusively to undocumented young people but to all students who, for various reasons, have problems finding an internship. That can be a particular challenge for youth whose immigration status often prevents them from accessing traditional jobs.

Advocates and lawmakers have for years pushed the city to find a workaround, and the pilot implements several of those recommendations, such as offering stipends instead of paychecks and focusing on enrichment and work-based learning rather than traditional employment.

“New York City will continue to welcome people from all corners of the globe—including youth from outside the United States, many of whom are seeking opportunities to learn, work, and succeed,” said Mark Zustovich, a spokesperson for the DYCD.

In addition to being within the eligible age range, students had to attend one of the city’s CareerReady schools in order to take part in the pilot.

Six community-based organizations serving all boroughs (Children’s Aid Society, Children’s Arts & Science Workshops, Chinese American Planning Council, Common Point Queens, Phipps Neighborhood, and United Activities Unlimited) worked with the schools to host qualified participants. Education Department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer explained that the DOE help promote the pilot among students.

In total, 282 young people were enrolled in the program last year, where they received a stipend of up to $552, and engaged in project-based learning and advanced work-readiness training for a maximum of 60 hours.

Organizations such as the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC), which has an extensive internship program that hosts thousands of SYEP students each year, received 100 students through the pilot program.

“We always have a waitlist,” for SYEP slots, CPC’s Director of Education and Career Services Amy Latorres said. And yet, “many [undocumented] students don’t apply because they know they can’t be part of it.”

Common Point Queens provided hosted 94 students in the pilot, and United Activities Unlimited (UAU) served 20 students last summer.

“It was a project-based learning initiative that included career exploration and networking opportunities,” said UAU’s Director of Workforce Development Jonathan Baratta. “Students appreciated the opportunity to develop soft skills, explore potential career fields, and build relationships with classmates and mentors. We were able to provide instruction virtually, in both English and Spanish, which made programming accessible to all that were interested.”

The cost of the pilot program was about $1,400 per participant. DYCD said it plans to run it again during the summer of 2023, with the goal of reaching 600 students and adding one more CBO, The Child Center of NY.

“We’re in the process of evaluating the programs to determine how to best serve youth who are undocumented or face barriers to employment,” said Zustovich.

It’s hard to know exactly how many undocumented young people are enrolled in the city’s schools, though estimates suggest there are tens of thousands. DYCD has previously pointed to estimates from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) stating that 42,000 young people ages 18 to 24 are undocumented, plus another 45,000 under age 17.

Some advocates use the NYS DREAM Act figure as a reference: 4,500 undocumented students graduated each year from New York state high schools in 2019—although this figure includes students statewide and leaves out younger high school students.

Other opportunities

Some local community organizations also offer internships that are accessible for, or geared to, undocumented young people. In 2022, Oyate group, in partnership with the Center for Community Engaged Learning at Fordham University, hosted the Beyond Rising Internship, welcoming 20 undocumented high school students.

This year the program tripled the number of slots and will accept 60 students, half of them to Fordham and the other half to Lehman College, both part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system.

The online-only bilingual application opened last month and will close at the end of March accepting both English and Spanish-speaking applicants aged 16-18, explained Tomas Ramos founder and president of the Oyate Group. The internship will run from July 6 to Aug. 1, providing weekly $500 gift card stipends to students.

José Higuera López, Lehman’s Deputy Director of the CUNY Mexican Studies Institute, said students will be able to participate in things like financial literacy workshops at the school of business, or work with the office that plans cultural events at the university. They’re also paired with Fordham students who serve as mentors.

As of Feb. 27, more than 60 kids had already applied.

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