Practices and Policies in Immigrant and Refugee Inclusion: Insights from a WES Social Media Forum

Practices and Policies in Immigrant and Refugee Inclusion Lead Image: Photo of a group of adults working [1]

According to the American Immigration Council [2], one in seven residents in the United States is an immigrant. That ratio is expected to grow—by the year 2060, one in six U.S. residents will be an immigrant, per U.S. Census Bureau projections [3]. Ensuring that immigrants and refugees have equitable opportunities for career advancement is crucial to the U.S. economy and will fuel long-term growth and innovation, foster strong local communities, and empower individuals. As Mission Asset Fund observed during World Education Services’ recent #ImmigrantsThrive Twitter chat, “when immigrants thrive, we all thrive.”

This sentiment was echoed throughout the Twitter chat during which immigrant and refugee advocates, thought leaders, and stakeholders discussed practices and policies that support the workforce inclusion and economic mobility of immigrants and refugees.

Below are five takeaways from the February 9, 2022, Twitter chat:

1. Networks, partnerships, and collective action are crucial to advancing immigrant and refugee inclusion.

Networks bring advocates together, effectively pooling resources in support of a common cause. At the national and local levels, networks connect diverse partners, reduce silos, and encourage the sharing of practices and resources. Peer-led networks, run by organizations that have the same goal, can be effective in collecting and mobilizing the financial resources and industrial know-how needed to successfully advance immigrant and refugee inclusion efforts and policies.

Partnerships between employers and community-based organizations are equally important as they link immigrants and refugees with human services, education, and skill-building opportunities. Partnerships between and among employers and direct service providers, non-profits, and foundations help develop untapped potential in immigrant and refugee communities. For example, Upwardly Global highlighted that it partnered with New York-Presbyterian Hospital to create a paid, mid-career internship opportunity for immigrants and refugees who have backgrounds in health care, technology, and administration.

As promising as these existing partnership and network models are, many Twitter chat participants noted the need for collective action at the national level. World Education Inc., a non-profit dedicated to improving people’s lives around the world through education and social and economic development, indicated that the U.S. would benefit from the creation of a National Office of New Americans. While a number of Offices of New Americans (ONAs) already exist at the state and local level, a national ONA would be able to coordinate inclusion policies and establish a cohesive federal strategy.

2. Focus resettlement and humanitarian assistance efforts on supporting the long-term economic mobility of refugees.

Jacki Esposito, U.S. policy and advocacy director at WES, underscored the need for the federal government to ensure a greater focus on career mobility in refugee resettlement and humanitarian assistance. Most participants agreed that the U.S. needs to do more than simply meet refugees’ basic survival needs—the government must also promote the long-term economic stability of refugee workers by matching them with well-paying jobs that are commensurate with their skills and experience.

To achieve this goal, Twitter chat participants proposed strengthening the “welcoming infrastructure [21]” of the U.S. by expanding job placement and inclusion programs; providing more education, coaching, and training opportunities; increasing investment in English language learning; and streamlining licensing and credentialing requirements. Fortifying the country’s welcoming infrastructure would also require a commitment to supporting refugees prior to their arrival and resettlement. For this reason, the U.S. needs to expand pre-arrival supports by, for example, launching pre-arrival career pathway programs [22].

Policy reform is also necessary to ensure that refugees can equitably seize opportunities to work. Twitter chat participants mentioned policies ranging from increased government investment in inclusion programs and refugee legal services to expanded direct public assistance to refugees. The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration noted that in order to encourage refugees to pursue higher education, the U.S. needs to offer them a path to citizenship. Refugees who come to study on F-1 visas are currently unable to stay on as permanent residents.

Finally, at the infrastructure level, the U.S. adult education system needs increased funding. Refugees can obtain higher paying jobs through improved access to continuing education programs; however, Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) CEO Sharon Bonney observed that without proper funding, the adult education system cannot fully support the adult learners who benefit most, including immigrants and refugees.

3. Employers must support refugee and immigrant inclusion in the workforce; they must also educate non-immigrant employees about the value of a workforce that is diverse and inclusive.

Employers must champion the multicultural and multilingual assets that refugees and immigrants bring to their workforce not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because there is a strong business case to be made for fostering diversity and inclusion. According to a 2020 McKinsey & Company report [34], “companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the [COVID-19] crisis stronger.” Companies that value diversity and inclusion tend to be more resilient, flexible, and agile.

4. Developing career and licensing pathways tailored to immigrant and refugee needs can help source talent pipelines and address labor shortages in key industries.

We must ensure equitable access to career pathways and entrepreneurship opportunities for immigrants and refugees. Free pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, such as IRC’s Industrial Sewing Pre-Apprenticeship Program [40], provide training and create unique employment opportunities for immigrant and refugee women.

WES’ Monica Munn, managing director for social impact, cited two other sector-specific examples: the National Fund for Workforce Solutions’ Healthcare Immigrant Workforce Project, which will use peer learning to develop the individual competencies of frontline health care workers and create career opportunities for immigrants and refugees; and the Center for Land-Based Learning’s apprenticeship and management training programs, which provide career pathways for incumbent workers in agriculture and farming. Both the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and the Center for Land-Based Learning are grantee partners of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund; their grants are part of the Fund’s goal of driving more inclusive employer practices [41].

Upwardly Global also noted the importance of offering alternative career pathways to immigrants who hold international credentials and experience, particularly in the high-demand field of health care. With Upwardly Global’s new paid mid-career internship program (noted earlier), immigrant talent can be prepared for open jobs in the health care sector, especially in underserved communities.

Community colleges play a key role in helping immigrants and refugees embark on career pathways in high-demand industries by allowing them to obtain short-term, stackable certificates that they can use to launch themselves into living-wage jobs and careers. States can help introduce effective career pathways by collaborating with community colleges and human service agencies.

5. Investing in the training and upskilling of immigrant and refugee workers, particularly those who are English language learners, is essential to forming more inclusive workforces in the U.S.

Employer-sponsored job training and English language classes not only help immigrants and refugees feel more welcome in the workplace, these initiatives also promote immigrant and refugee career advancement and economic mobility.

Many immigrants and refugees have unrecognized talents and assets such as digital skills, that, with support from employers and targeted training, can be enhanced and used to pursue opportunities for growth. Employers should build on these foundational digital skills by encouraging continual digital learning and upskilling among their refugee and immigrant staff.

Twitter chat participant JFF (Jobs for the Future), in conjunction with Tent Partnership for Refugees, recently released a report titled Bridging Language & Work [55] that outlines strategies companies can employ to invest in refugee and immigrant talent. Some of the report’s suggestions include:

The U.S. must continue to invest in immigrants and refugees so that they have equitable access to employment opportunity and can fully participate in the workforce. We urge you to stay involved in advocacy efforts by joining IMPRINT’s #UntappedTalent campaign [58], an initiative helping to raise awareness and advance policies that create more inclusive economies and workforces.