But the number of women entering the industry is growing. Worker’s Justice Project, an immigrant labor advocacy group based in Brooklyn, first offered a women’s construction safety class in 2010 with just 8 students. This month, they held two women’s classes, each with close to 40 students, the legal limit.
Another immigrant services group, NICE, based in Queens, said nearly half of students enrolled in their construction safety classes this month were women. Their classes are offered for free, while private companies can charge more than $400.
More than 78,700 asylum seekers have come to New York City since last spring, with more than 2,000 new arrivals per week, according to the city.
Unlike past waves, where it was common for single men to make the journey, more people are crossing the southern border as families, as they flee violence and economic issues in countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, said Mario Russell, the executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.
Construction is one of the few industries that’s hiring, which may explain why increasing numbers of women are being drawn to the field.
“It could simply be that there’s nothing out there for them,” he said.
Many newcomers do not realize how dangerous the work is, said Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of Worker’s Justice Project. Last year in New York City there were 11 building construction worker deaths on the job, the most since 2019, according to an industry safety report.
Still, construction jobs — those open to nonunion workers — are a rare source of opportunity for asylum seekers.