Immigrants and refugees can be a veritable talent solution amid the Great Resignation, according to Jina Krause-Vilmar, CEO and president of Upwardly Global, a nonprofit that provides career assistance for those coming to the U.S. But there are barriers employers must address to fully realize the benefits of this contingent, she told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management's Inclusion conference.
Hurdles exist throughout the process, from the job hunt, to interviews, to onboarding, Krause-Vilmar said. "Upon arrival, they may not know how to navigate the U.S. labor market, understand where their skills fit in, what roles they're qualified for," she said. Upwardly Global addresses these issues through skills-building, job-coaching and employer partnerships, but there's also plenty employers can do on their own.
Know that tech access may be limited
An obstacle immigrants often face is a lack of financial support. Yasmina Kone of Beam, a U.K.-based company that crowdfunds resources for homeless people, told HR Dive via email that most refugees "have 'no recourse to public funds,' meaning they cannot claim benefits or housing assistance from the government." Related, access to technology remains an issue, she said. "People often arrive with little to no possessions, and purchasing a laptop or smartphone is not high on the priority list when compared to food and rent," she explained.
That hurdle can affect the job search. Tech access and training — something Beam offers — "is more important than ever given that we live in an increasingly virtual world," Kone said.
Qualifications may get lost in translation
Even people who are highly skilled in their home countries may have qualifications that go unrecognized by their new country of residence, leading to underemployment. Kone tells an anecdote about an Iranian survey engineer named Javad who emigrated to the U.K. and was able to raise £4,324 on Beam to fund a digger operator course, construction training, a laptop, and travel costs.
According to a 2020 Migration Policy Institute report, 47% of immigrants arriving to the U.S. within the past five years have a college degree. MPI also stated that 2 million immigrants with college degrees in the United States — roughly one out of every four, according to the 2016 report — were working low-skilled jobs or generally unable to find work. These stats illustrate a point Krause-Vilmar made during the SHRM conference, which is that many refugees and immigrants are underemployed as well as unemployed.
"This is the ride-share driver from Turkey, who also happens to be a data analyst," she told her SHRM audience. "This is the hot dog stand vendor from Colombia, who also happens to be an engineer."
For many immigrants to be successful, new licensing or recredentialing is necessary. Employers can keep in mind, Kone said, that many people have had their education disrupted by civil unrest. That's where organizations like Kone's come in, helping workers build confidence and acclimate to the local labor market.
Interviews won't reflect all capabilities
Because of immediate needs, many refugees and asylees end up taking what Krause-Vilmar called "rapid attachment jobs" or "survival jobs." Likewise, immigrants may not shine in interviews in ways employers typically expect.
"Moreover, immigrant professionals are not aware of cultural norms in the U.S. workplace such as eye contact or the American way of storytelling," she said. "Or our culture of self-promotion and marketing ourselves during the interview process, versus collective cultures which are much more about their contributions." Oftentimes, she added, employers read a candidate as being incompetent or not assertive enough because they don't fit certain "cultural molds."
One solution Krause-Vilmar recommends here is putting immigrant employees on hiring panels, to help ensure immigrant talent gets selected as finalists for roles.
"We need to adapt our systems and open up opportunities, so we can move from imagining to creating a place where people of all colors are able to climb every rung of the corporate ladder," she said toward the end of her session. "Where those people feel safe and indeed are expected to bring their authentic selves to work every day."