Chinatown Restaurants In Need of Workers
From The World Journal
November 18, 2003

Until recently, the demand for restaurant jobs on East Broadway in Chinatown exceeded the supply. Job placement centers in the neighborhood were swarmed every Monday in a scene that placement workers described reminiscently as “the good old days.” These crowds are no longer seen. Though restaurateurs from other states have offered higher pay, the reaction from job seekers are lukewarm. New immigrants looking for work say it is risky to work in "faraway" states, which “censor documents strictly.”

Monday is the off-day for many restaurant workers from China’s Fujian Province; it is also the busiest day in Chinatown. But recently the usual hustling at job placement centers on Forsyth and Eldridge streets is hard to find. In fact, “Help Wanted” advertisements covered the fronts of counters here. Few had been taken by interested job hunters.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. federal government has strengthened scrutiny of undocumented immigrants, said Li Qing at the Fu Mei Job Placement Service on East Broadway. He said immigration officers are even stopping buses on highways to check the passengers’ IDs, which makes journeys long, risky and uncertain for immigrants. If caught, undocumented workers will be deported to China, losing the tens of thousands of dollars they had paid to human traffickers who brought them here.

Fu Yishan runs a restaurant in Ohio, and has been looking in vain for employers for three days. He said his stir-fry chef was on wedding leave this week, and he was looking for somebody to substitute him. He has found few job seekers, and most of them were unwilling to work outside the New York State.

Analysts said another reason for the job glut is that the number of restaurants has soared, but the number of newly arrived immigrants has not. Fu Yishan said restaurants run by people from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian, are almost everywhere in the United States, where people can easily find jobs. The immigrant population has changed as well. Many used to be stowaways, but now most immigrants come with legal visas and are less willing to do menial restaurant work. Some restaurateurs have raised monthly wages to $1,900 or even $2,200, but still have attracted little interest.
Some job placement centers have become more innovative. For example, they offer shuttle bus service or provide jobs tailored for couples. A husband might stir-fry while his wife helps him, with a combined monthly salary of $4,100 for the two of them. Still, not many are interested. Job seeker Wang Changzhi said there are many more jobs than before, and that he has plenty of time to balance them. He said he wanted to find a job close to the New York City, where he feels at home and has few language or communication problems.

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Translated from Chinese by Shasha Dai

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