Refugee Resettlement: Diversifying and Revitalizing the Workforce
By Becky Burnside
Imagine being forced to leave your home because of war, violence, or political oppression and having to start your life again in a new country, with a new language, a new culture, and new expectations. This is what hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world have faced and overcome every year. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as a person who has fled his/her homeland and is unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Since 1970, the world refugee population has increased over 500% and now numbers at over 22,000,000 worldwide. Nearly 75% of the world’s refugees are women and children. Refugees have come to the U.S. since 1948, when displaced European refugees arrived following World War II. The Resettlement Program was formalized with the Refugee Act of 1980. Since that time, the United States government has been admitting refugees to the country in cooperation with the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security. After they have fled their home countries, a very small percentage of refugees are approved for resettlement at various agencies throughout the United States. Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of Louisville, Kentucky, is one such agency.
MRS assists newly arriving refugees with every step of the process of beginning their lives in the U.S. In the past five years, Catholic Charities has resettled between 800-1000 refugees annually from countries as diverse as Cuba, Somalia, Bhutan, Burma, and Iraq. Catholic Charities offers a wide range of services including picking up the families at the airport, setting up apartments, and enrolling children in school. However, the main goal of the entire Refugee Resettlement Program and the goal of the refugees themselves is self-sufficiency through early employment. The clients served by MRS have diverse backgrounds, from farmers to chemical engineers and from teachers to welders. The Employment Team at Catholic Charities works with all these new arrivals, regardless of their backgrounds, to assist them in all aspects of the job search. Refugees are taught about workplace rules and expectations, interviewing skills, and resume writing. They then work closely with the Employment Team to be placed in a job opening in the community that matches their skills and experience as much as possible. When language barriers or cultural misunderstandings arise, the diverse, multilingual Employment Team is always available to employers and refugee workers.
The Employment Program at Catholic Charities is a win-win program for both the community and the refugees. Local businesses get experienced and dedicated employees who are ready to learn new skills and become productive and contributing members of society. Companies that have hired refugees have consistently been impressed with their work ethic, positive attitudes, and high rate of job retention. Refugee workers are eager to have jobs to begin their new lives here and start down the path to self sufficiency. Within a few years, many new arrivals have purchased cars and homes and have become leaders in their communities. In the past year, Catholic Charities has placed clients in over 500 jobs with over 100 different companies. On average, many of the refugee arrivals are working within three months of their arrival to the United States.
Becky Burnside is the Employment Services Manager at Catholic Charities of Louisville. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in International Affairs at Xavier University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.