What You Should Know About Refugees

And why we should welcome them in our workforce

By Nikki Cicerani

At the United Nations and the White House this week, leaders are meeting to address the refugee crisis that has resulted in the most displaced people worldwide since World War II. The reality of more than 60 million people on the move has raised essential questions for countries about their national policies and character, as well as how, very practically, they can effectively respond to so many in need.

The Obama administration announced plans last week for the U.S. to accept 110,000 refugees next year, a significant rise over the 85,000 being resettled in 2016. Meanwhile, the president’s Leaders Summit on Refugees on Tuesday seeks, among its goals, to “increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work” and to secure commitments from private sector companies to assist in this effort.

For the past decade, Upwardly Global has helped to fill the gap between basic resettlement services and the private sector, supporting highly skilled refugees and asylees to find meaningful work and connecting employers to this valuable talent pool. It is a role that we have been honored to play — to help men and women succeed in this country, and to witness the gratitude and returned sense of identity and dignity they experience when they are able to provide for their families and are recognized for their skills and experience.

But in doing this work, we also acutely aware of the many misconceptions around refugees, their backgrounds, and their potential to contribute to their new homes and workplaces. As these important discussions around economic integration and inclusion continue, here are some things we want to make sure everyone knows about refugees and asylees:

· Refugees go through extensive security screenings before coming to the U.S. and enter with full work authorization. They are screened by a number of agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center and the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. It can take 18–24 months before a refugee is approved for admission to the U.S. When they arrive, they are legal residents and can work legally without any kind of visa sponsorship.

· Refugees, asylees and Special Immigrant Visa holders have distinct definitions, although they are frequently grouped together. Those seeking to be resettled in the U.S. as refugees must demonstrate that they can no longer live in their home country due to a reasonable fear or proof that they will persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion. Asylum is a form of protection available to people who meet the definition of refugee, but who are already in the U.S. or are seeking admission at a port of entry. The U.S.’s Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program is available to men and women who demonstrated valuable service to America in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the program, they and their immediate families can gain lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.

· They are not a monolithic group. While much of the world’s attention is on Syria, the U.S. takes in men, women and children from many countries affected by war, persecution and political upheaval. Upwardly Global serves refugees and asylees from more than 50 countries with Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Syria providing the largest concentration.

· Refugees and asylees are educated and fill vital roles in the economy. It is a common narrative to view refugees as a financial burden to countries that take them in. But in addition to their resourcefulness, courage, and fortitude, about 30% of refugees arriving in the U.S. have at least a bachelor’s degree, roughly the same share as the native-born population, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many of them were professionals in their home countries and we have seen repeatedly that they can and do fill vital roles in the U.S. workforce in IT, healthcare, and beyond.

· There are a number of reasons why refugees and asylees may initially struggle to get a foothold in the professional workforce. Resettlement services provide about eight months of assistance, but this is a very tight timeline for someone who has experienced significant trauma to adjust to a new culture and workforce. Job applications and recruitment processes may also inadvertently screen out highly skilled immigrants and refugees due to their foreign education and credentials or gaps in their work history. Upwardly Global has created a guide to assist employers through the process of recruiting, screening, hiring, and welcoming refugees and asylees into their workplaces.

This is an important moment for leaders in both the public and private sectors. Opening opportunities for refugees and asylees is about more than giving newcomers to our country a fair shot, it’s about diversifying our workplaces, benefitting from the unique talents these men and women bring, and creating a workforce that mirrors our globalized world.

Nikki Cicerani is the President and CEO of Upwardly Global.

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