Untapped Talent

October 23, 2008

A Washington Post article today addressed America’s inability to utilized the talents of it’s foreign-born workers, particularly immigrants and refugees. According to a recent study produced by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, “One in five college-educated immigrants in the United States is unemployed or working in an unskilled job such as a dishwasher, fast-food restaurant cashier or security guard, depriving the U.S. economy of the full potential of more than 1.3 million foreign-born workers.

While the article mainly focuses on the impact and examines the educational level of immigrants from Latin America and Africa rather than your standard refugee who has fled war and conflict, the article did mention two paragraphs on the situation for refugees worth noting:

Refugees often face the highest hurdles because they lack even the cushion of financial support from family. Vu Dang, director of the International Rescue Committee‘s Washington area refugee resettlement office, said this obstacle has proved particularly vexing to Iraqi refugees arriving in recent months. They receive a three-month stipend from the U.S. government, at best.

The resettlement office has “to acclimatize them to the reality that whatever they were in their home country is irrelevant,” Dang said. “They need to find a job right away just to pay their rent, and those kind of jobs are going to be jobs in hotels and restaurants that pay a little bit over minimum wage.

Given the short assistance provided to refugees when they are resettled, few are able to use their skills and education from the countries in which they have fled to contribute to America. Perhaps if we were to provide refugees with some time and understand it takes a little longer than three-months to adjust to a new culture, language, and way of life, perhaps than refugees will not be burdens on our communities. Instead, they will put their talents and skills to use to contribute in a positive manner to the economy and their new communities. Americans have to understand that while we provide a safe haven for refugees, we also have to provide opportunities for them in order to both benefit in the long run.