How Do Agencies Help Refugees Find Jobs, and Other Important Questions…

The main priority of the Refugee Resettlement Program in the United States (other countries have different priorities) is self-sufficiency as soon as possible. All the stakeholders in this process recognize that there are many important factors to self-sufficiency including stable housing, English language training, community integration, and not least employment.

So, let’s take a few moments to talk about refugees and jobs.

  1. Agency employment staff members develop relationships with employers and with clients.

By getting to know their clients, their work histories, how much their monthly expenses are, where they live and what their transportation options are, employment staff members are able to connect each client with the best possible job.

The relationship with the employer is as important as the relationship with the client. Developing relationships with employers allows employment staff members to better understand the jobs available. This means workers will have more options as well as more realistic expectations. Those relationships also make it possible for the employer to go back to the employment staff if a placement doesn’t work out. The key to these relationships, according to one of our partners, is open communication.

  1. Agency employment staff members provide job training.

Job training usually includes an orientation to workplace expectations in the United States. Some clients have extensive work history but in a very different culture. Other clients may have no formal work experience, having been vendors or farmers in a rural system of entrepreneurship. These trainings ultimately lead to increased job retention.

Job training may provide an introduction to how to complete an application. This is usually done in the first weeks upon arrival as clients don’t yet have the necessary documents to work but have all the desire. Learning how to translate their life experiences into work histories and gaining the English skills needed to complete a job application will help clients get better jobs. Better jobs mean earlier self-sufficiency.

  1. Refugees are eager to get to work.

We often hear endearing stories of clients calling resettlement agency supervisors to complain that they haven’t been placed in jobs yet. In most of these stories, the supervisor looks into it and finds out the client has only been in the US for a few days and doesn’t yet have all the paperwork necessary to work. We also hear about refugee elders who are entitled to social security benefits, but would rather be working.

Those anecdotes are evidence of refugees’ drive to support themselves and their families. One employment specialist explained that refugees are eager to work because, “The ability to provide for one’s family and self is incredibly fulfilling and restores a sort of normalcy that is so often missing when someone arrives in a new place.”

  1. Refugees aren’t taking jobs away from anyone else.

Many of the jobs that our clients start out at are relatively low wage but very physically demanding. They may be processing vegetables or meat in a very cold environment on their feet for eight to ten hours a day. These same employers place billboards on the interstate hoping anyone will apply. The employment specialist at World Relief Memphis, Emily, explains that, “Based on the sole fact that they have fled persecution, refugees already show they are resilient and hard working.” For them, this isn’t an interim job, it’s a path to self-sufficiency with benefits and opportunities for growth.

We’ll leave you with an example:

Alina at sewing employerAlina was resettled from Ukraine through one of our partners in 2017. She got to work as quickly as possible and received very positive feedback from her employer, a small sewing company. Here are some of the words and phrases her employer used to describe her: Employer's description of Alina

Single Mom to Self-Sufficient

Here at TOR, we like to do fun stuff for our partners once in a while. So, we decided to go on an Appreciation Tour. Our stop at Bridge Refugee Services in Chattanooga was a pleasant opportunity for TOR staff who do not have the privilege of working outside our four walls to meet partner staff members. It was also a delightful chance for all of us to celebrate the victories of the last year. We were all especially moved by one simple yet powerful story.

Before being resettled to the US, Noora (pseudonym) and her infant daughter had been living in a refugee camp, where there were no jobs available. Her husband had stayed behind in Iraq, despite the danger, in order to eke out a modest living to send to Noora and baby girl.

Noora and her daughter were resettled in Chattanooga in early 2016. Bridge resettlement staff took notice of the fact Noora spoke English very well. At one time, Iraq had been a place in which education was attainable and Noora had studied English. Bridge staff knew that Noora would have more employment options because of this one skill.

Bridge staff helped Noora enroll in some basic services to ensure that they would have short-term access to food, child care, and employment services while they got back on their feet. Before long, Noora was utilizing the services of an employment agency which helped her obtain clothes appropriate for a professional work environment.

Each of the challenges Noora faced was met with determination and optimism. Noora soon found work at a cell phone store within walking distance to her apartment and child care. Her customers are other immigrants and refugees who live, as she does, nearby. She loves helping people connect with each other, getting to know her community, and supporting her family.

Noora was a young woman when she left Iraq. She was a wife and mom. She had never been employed. Now she thrives on the independence that workforce participation offers. She hopes that her husband will be able to join her in the next year.

Noora is an inspiring example of how refugees, with some local support, can become vital members of the community.

Refugees and Security

When we present information about refugee resettlement in Tennessee, we get a lot of security questions. We remind people of two things: The vetting process is detailed and thorough; and, the role of our office begins when refugees arrive in Tennessee.

A quick word about point two: We get phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from displaced people or their loved ones asking for help. They all get the same unsatisfying response. We do not get to choose who comes to Tennessee. We always wish we could send help to the voice on the other end of the message, but that is just not how the system works.

So, what about the security vetting of refugees? There are some great resources explaining the security process. Here are some we recommend.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted individuals allowed into the United States. There will always be risk when we allow anyone through our borders for any reason. However, those of us who work daily with and for refugees know that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to welcoming the stranger – those benefits are extended not only to the families who make the US their home, but also to the communities in which they thrive. We ask that you join us by getting to know these newcomers.

 

Looking Back

We’ve been looking at data and outcomes for the federal fiscal year that just ended (FFY 2016) just ended. So, we wanted see how we’re doing as compared to last year (October 2014- September 2015). We’ll publish our results on FFY 2016, but until then, here are some of the highlights from FFY 2015.

  • 1578 refugees were resettled in Tennessee; 39 percent were children.
  • Refugees from Burma made up the largest group (24.6%), followed by Iraq (20.7%), Somalia (13.4%) and DR Congo (12.9%).
  • Over 70 percent of refugees resettled to Tennessee were resettled in Davidson county, while 12 percent were resettled in Shelby county, 11 percent in Knox, 5 percent in Hamilton, and 6 percent in all other counties combined.
  • 540 refugees received English language training.
  • 263 teachers and school personnel received training on refugee culture and community resources.
  • 1655 individuals received comprehensive health care screenings.
  • The average wage among refugees working full time and receiving cash assistance was $9.38.

We are proud of what our partners across the state were able to accomplish. We are privileged to serve incredibly resilient and hardworking people everyday.

Read the full report here:

How to Get Involved

With so much attention on global migration crises, refugee serving organizations have experienced an uptick in interest from potential volunteers and donors. Since the attacks in Paris we at TOR have heard from people across the state asking how they can help. A few of us who work with and for refugees put this short list of suggestions together:

1) Volunteer

Resettlement and refugee service agencies are always looking for innovative ways to best serve their clients. We all have skills, from graphic design to searching through craigslist, that are invaluable to refugee integration. If you want to see how your skill or passion fits in with an organization, email an agency to see how you can be plugged in. Additionally, dedicated volunteers are always in high demand to teach ESL or befriend a newly arrived family.

2) Support existing programs

Dig through agencies’ websites to find a need that speaks to you. Maybe you’ll choose to donate welcome packages for newly arrived refugee families, or you’ll become a resume tutor and help a highly educated refugee avoid under-employment.

3) Use your voice

Tennessee legislators listen to their constituents; your voice matters. Do two things: follow the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) to stay up to date on proposed legislation and call or email your representatives today!

4) Leverage your networks

Encourage your musician friends to host a fundraising concert, or suggest that your faith group hold a coat drive. Choose to hold your next event at one of the many outstanding New American-owned restaurants in town. Be sure to share facts from reputable sources like the Tennessee Office for Refugees and Migration Policy Institute along the way.

5) Be a Tennessean

We are the volunteer state after all. We pull together in times of crisis and meet each other’s needs.  Nashville has been called the nation’s friendliest city, and we’ve openly welcomed refugees for decades.  Now is the time to uphold these values.

 

Please visit Meet Our Partners page to connect with a refugee serving agency. This list is not exhaustive. There are many nonprofits that work tirelessly to serve refugees. Get connected with one in your community and see how you can fit in.