‘They’re Excellent Swimmers,’ – Mayor Adams Suggests Migrants as Solution to Lifeguard Shortage

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has proposed that migrants should be considered to address New York City’s lifeguard shortage, citing their swimming skills and the potential benefits of expediting work visas. During a City Hall briefing, Adams highlighted the city’s ongoing struggle to staff lifeguard positions at beaches and pools ahead of Memorial Day.

Adams pointed out the irony of having a large population of skilled swimmers among the migrants entering the city, while simultaneously facing a critical shortage of lifeguards. He suggested that the primary obstacle preventing migrants from filling these roles is the slow process of obtaining work permits. “How do we have a large body of people that are in our city, our country, that are excellent swimmers and at the same time we need lifeguards—and the only obstacle is that we won’t give them the right to work to become a lifeguard,” Adams stated.

The mayor’s comments come amid a broader discussion on immigration and employment, as many migrants cross the Rio Grande daily in hopes of a better life in the United States. This influx has strained New York City’s resources, with immigrants requiring shelter, food, and medical care.

He cited food service and healthcare as examples where skilled migrants could fill critical vacancies if not for bureaucratic hurdles. “If we had a plan that said, ‘If there was a shortage of food service workers and those who fit that criteria, we’re going to expedite you,’ if you have experience that you are a nurse and we have a nursing shortage, we would expedite you,” Adams explained. He emphasized the potential for migrants to fill lifeguard positions similarly.

Deputy Mayor for Operations, Meera Joshi, provided updates on the current lifeguard shortage, noting that 560 first-time lifeguards had passed the rigorous testing for positions this year, compared to 364 applicants last year. However, the total number of certified lifeguards for the upcoming summer remains unclear.

To address the shortage, the Adams administration has increased recruitment efforts over recent years. The city has boosted lifeguard pay to $22 per hour and offers $1,000 bonuses for those who commit through the peak season. Despite these incentives, staffing the 14 miles of beaches and public pools across the city requires roughly 1,500 lifeguards.

Adams’ proposal marks a shift in his approach to solving the lifeguard shortage, explicitly connecting migrants’ swimming abilities to potential lifeguard roles for the first time. His comments reflect a broader push to integrate migrants into the workforce and address critical job shortages through policy reforms.