By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The high unemployment rate — more than 9 percent — continues to be a major national problem, one that has affected a specific segment of the population more than the general population.
Jennifer Brennan, director of IMPRINT, said there are 2.7 million college-educated immigrants in the United States who are unemployed. She feels this isn’t a hopeless situation and pointed out, “If we can reach 5 percent [of these immigrants and refugees] — 135,000 people — and they make $35,000, there would be $6 billion in tax income in five years.”
IMPRINT (Immigrant Personal Integration) is a national coalition of five nonprofit organizations with expertise in immigrant integration.
These organizations represent educators, practitioners, researchers, and policy professionals.
Brennan and five other panelists offered their solutions to this problem at the fourth annual National Immigrant Integration Conference held Oct. 24 through Oct. 26. More than 700 people from 38 states and seven countries attended the three-day event at The Westin in Seattle.
Brennan served as moderator for one of seven sessions addressing the workforce and economic development of immigrants and refugees.
Her session was entitled “Do I Have to Start Over? A Training on Best Practices to Help Immigrant Professionals Re-Establish Their Careers.”
Session panelists included José Ramón Fernández Péna, founder and director of Welcome Back Initiative, Nikki Cicerani, executive director of Upwardly Global, Tere Wisell, director of the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, Paul Feltman, director of community engagement for World Education Services, and Anne O’Callaghan, executive director of Welcoming Center for New Americans.
Fernández Péna identified 10 barriers that immigrants may face and must try to overcome if they want to get a job:
1) fluency in English
2) credential evaluation and recognition
3) lack of information about career pathways
4) loss of professional networks
5) lack of knowledge of the U.S. job search process (standards for resumes, interviews, networking)
6) professional licensing requirements for regulated professions
7) employer perceptions (ignorance, undervaluation, risk)
8) lack of dedicated funding from the government
9) differences in workplace culture
10) their own personal challenges
One audience member added “lack of time.”
Fernández Péna responded, “That goes hand in hand with [lack of] money.” On credential evaluation and recognition, Cicerani wanted the audience to know that employers may not know how to evaluate foreign credentials.
Fernández Péna then encouraged the advocates gathered in the audience to go deeper in their interactions with immigrants and to “understand the circumstances in which they came to the U.S.”
Immigrants must be able to talk about the following:
1) their professional aspirations
2) their skills and knowledge base
3) their education and employment history (abroad as well as in the United States)
4) their disabilities and health-related needs (if any)
5) their current responsibilities
6) their opportunities
All of these items make up the intake assessment, which is a comprehensive snapshot of the immigrant’s needs.
Immigrant’s resumes, often several pages long, need to be shortened, so that they’re “what is expected by an employer,” according to Cicerani.
“They can have too little information and no context about such things as their school’s prestige and rank.”
She recommends that immigrants study resume templates, which are easily found, because they make clear the information — professional summary of key skills, for example — that a U.S. employer is used to seeing and will recognize. Cicerani said, “It may not be part of their culture to speak about their accomplishments.”
There is one unique notation that immigrant professionals may want to consider adding to the top of their resumes: “Permanent Work Authorization. No Visa Sponsorship Required.”
Brennan then mentioned five factors needed for mastering the job interview. These are musts:
1) display attentive body language
2) be an active listener who asks for clarification if necessary
3) be able to give examples of a problem-action-result
4) ask questions that show you’ve done research on the company
5) follow-up with such things as short e-mails that show interest in the job
She added that immigrants must be prepared to answer such behavioral interview questions as “Tell me about a situation when you were posed with an ethical dilemma.”
Cicerani offered a final practical solution for job-seeking immigrant professionals.
“Upwardly Global has many successful alumni. We ask them to come back and mentor current jobseekers,” she said. (end)
For more information about the 2011 National Immigrant Integration Conference, go to www.integrationconference.org. For more information about IMPRINT, go to www.imprintproject.org. For more information about Upwardly Global, go to www.upwardlyglobal.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.