For politicians in Washington and New York City, an unprecedented stream of asylum seekers presents an intractable problem with no easy answers. For companies like Tyson Foods Inc., struggling to fill unpleasant jobs with a U.S. unemployment rate of 3.9%, this new population presents an alluring opportunity.

Tyson is joining the nonprofit Tent Partnership for Refugees, which was founded by Chobani yogurt magnate Hamdi Ulukaya, with a plan to hire some of the 181,400 migrants that have come through New York City’s intake system over the last two years. The meatpacker already employs about 42,000 immigrants among its 120,000-strong U.S. workforce.

“We would like to employ another 42,000 if we could find them,” said Garrett Dolan, who leads Tyson’s efforts to eliminate employment barriers such as immigration status or the need for child care.

On a cold day last month, Tyson officials met with immigrants at Chobani’s offices in Manhattan and hired 17 asylum seekers from Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia for jobs at its plant in Humboldt, Tennessee. Last week, it hired 70 more.

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Asylum seekers arrive at the Roosevelt Hotel last May in New York. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press

It’s a tiny drop in the bucket when compared with the surge in new arrivals, but could point the way toward a partial solution to address companies’ labor shortages as well as the challenge of finding work for eligible immigrants. Tent is also working with four other companies seeking to hire migrants, including the airline food packager Gategroup Holding AG, which is backed by Singapore wealth fund Temasek. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has partnered with Tent to support refugee populations.

Asylum hopefuls are typically eligible to receive work permits 180 days after they apply for the legal status, though some can receive them sooner. Many will wait years before their first immigration hearing due to court backlogs, but they’ll be allowed to work in the meantime.


Tyson is constantly in search of workers to fill jobs in its factories – tasks like washing meat, placing the cuts into trays and doing a final inspection for bones. Dolan says the company expects about 40% of the 100,000 people in these roles will leave each year, a statistic he says is standard across the meatpacking industry. To meet this need, he said, Tyson plans to hire about 52,000 people at that wage class – which starts at $16.50 an hour, plus benefits – in 2024 alone.

“We’re recognizing there’s not a lot of people that are going to be working labor-manufacturing jobs that are American,” Dolan said. A large portion of new hires “are going to come from refugees and immigrants, so we’re now in the business of strategically thinking that through.”

The food industry has long been a destination for immigrants, and it carries a checkered past of employment and workplace safety violations. Last year, Tyson and Perdue Farms Inc. were among food producers that came under investigation from the U.S. Department of Labor after a New York Times report found contractors illegally employed migrant children at companies’ plants. The company says it has zero tolerance for child labor and doesn’t allow the employment of anyone under the age of 18 in any of its facilities.

Tyson is also investing in retaining immigrant workers, having earmarked $1.5 million a year for legal aid services in 2023 and 2024 and providing paid time off for workers to attend court hearings. Last year, Tyson paid for 1,317 workers to become U.S. citizens.

The migrant hires and other new entry-level workers receive on-site childcare and transportation, as well as English classes for those who want them. The company is providing its new employees from New York with temporary housing, a relocation stipend and paid time off to better acclimate to their new lives in Humboldt.

“They’re very, very loyal,” Dolan said. “They’ve been uprooted and what they want is stability – what they want is a sense of belonging.”

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