A work permit clinic at a National Guard facility has helped more than 1,700 recently arrived migrants take initial steps toward getting jobs and potentially moving out of the state’s shelter system, officials said Thursday.

State and federal officials stood up the clinic at Camp Curtis Guild in Reading to help eligible migrants living in shelters more quickly navigate the complex slog of becoming authorized to work in the United States.

State emergency assistance director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice said the clinic, with its 500-plus volunteers, has in some cases shortened a process that could otherwise take months into less than 30 days.

"This clinic has been critical in connecting more migrants to work opportunities, which will help them support their families and move out of emergency shelter and into stable housing," Rice said. "It has helped put hundreds of shelter residents on a new path to self-sufficiency. And I'd like to thank the clinic that helped these families find hope."

Rice said the people helped by the clinic are all in the country legally, and are often eager to work. He recounted meeting an experienced forklift operator who speaks five languages, and said others are finding jobs in health care and at small businesses.

“There are so many unfilled jobs across the state, it's unbelievable,” Rice said.

The Healey administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security first launched the work authorization clinic in mid-November as one tool to help people move out of the overextended emergency shelter network. Thursday was its last day, Rice said, though officials are considering options for another iteration in the future.

Shelter residents arrive by bus at Camp Curtis Guild, where National Guard members greet them and interpreters are available. In a large room at the camp, folding tables are set up in eight different stations where paralegals, immigration attorneys, state police cadets and other volunteers help them with various aspects of the paperwork.

For parents bringing children with them, toys, snacks, diapers and a nursing station are also available.

National Guard Specialist Grace Colin, who speaks Haitian Creole, said she’s been able to talk to people participating in the clinic and hear their stories. Some, she said, traveled from Haiti to Chile, and then walked to the United States from there.

“Some people died because they couldn't eat. They couldn't survive. A lot of women and children passed,” Colin said. “But they just basically explained that they're strong, resilient and they're happy to be here.”

The clinic also offers other services to interested newcomers. Rice said more than 900 adults and children have received seasonal vaccinations, nearly 650 people have registered with the MassHire career center and more than 170 families have started applications for child care financial assistance.

Dan Koh, deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the clinic is “an example of that kind of collaboration that we're trying to replicate across the country.”

A white man with white hair stands at a lectern. About a dozen other people flank him, including two in Army uniforms.
Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, the state's emergency assistance director, speaks at a Nov. 30 press conference at Camp Curtis Guild in Reading, the site of a work authorization clinic for migrants living in Massachusetts shelters.
Katie Lannan GBH News