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Workplace Culture

Clampdown on Refugees Conflicts With Push for Employment

February figures show a dramatically dwindling number of refugees available for jobs.

As immigration issues swirl around businesses seeking to hire foreign talent, a new guide published by the Tent Foundation is still touting the benefits of hiring refugees.

The “U.S. Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees” highlights the positive aspects businesses reap when hiring refugees. Diversity tops the list of what refugees bring to the workplace, according to Gideon Maltz, executive director of Tent Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with businesses to help them integrate refugee workers into their workplace. Whether it’s experience or language, refugees can provide new insights from their respective countries.

“A more diverse workforce fosters new ideas and innovations, which is necessary in our more competitive, global market,” Maltz said.

Finding those refugee workers poses a challenge, based on recent statistics.

A recent report in the San Diego Union-Tribune indicated the number of refugees entering San Diego has declined significantly following the Trump administration’s restriction on the refugee resettlement program. According to the Refugee Processing Center, as of February 2018, San Diego has settled 40 refugees, compared to more than 1,100 the same time last year. That reflects national numbers, too. This year 6,708 refugees have been settled, compared to 32,448 last year, statistics show. According to its website, the Refugee Processing Center is operated by the U.S Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in Arlington, Virginia.

Gideon Maltz

Gideon Maltz

Based on the Tent Foundation guide, a refugee is “an individual who is unable to return to his or her home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.”

Employers have options beyond refugees if they want to diversify their workforce with foreign workers. Immigrants on an H-1B visa, which allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, also bring with them their foreign experiences and knowledge.

Many foreign workers possess degrees in STEM subjects, according to Richard Burke, CEO of Envoy Global, an enterprise platform that works with companies to make the hiring and managing process of a global workforce easier. Burke said foreign workers, such as immigrants, have a better educational background than their U.S. counterparts.

“The problem is U.S. universities are not issuing enough STEM degrees to U.S. citizens,” said Burke. “There’s a big gap between the supply of U.S.-born folks with the right educational criteria and a demand for these positions.”

Burke reasoned that businesses could be putting more of an effort into introducing more immigrants because they see the benefit diversity brings to a company’s culture.

Richard Burke

Richard Burke

“To address the supply and demand imbalance employers are saying, ‘We have opportunities, we want to grow, we want to contribute to the economy,’ ” said Burke. “But to do that we need the talent and the workers to do it. And the only way to do it is through foreign national talent.”

Still, why now? Businesses may hesitate when hiring foreigners at a time when immigration issues and admitting refugees into the United States remains a controversial topic.

“We as a country would be shortsighted if we didn’t want to take advantage of this foreign talent and have them create jobs in the United States,” Burke said.

Envoy Global’s “2018 Immigration Trends Report” looks at opinions of employers on immigration and their hiring process. Based on the report, businesses that would like to implement this strategy are finding it difficult to do so in the face of the tougher immigration standards.

“Eighty-five percent of respondents say the U.S immigration program policies have impacted their ability to hire,” said Burke.

For potential employers that want to hire refugees, Maltz advises them to reach out to their local resettlement agency since those organizations can help with logistical details. Managers should also prepare to spend extra money on English as second language courses and other programs to help new workers acclimate to their new home.

“[It] may require some upfront investments but these are small in relation to the benefits refugees will bring to your company,” Maltz said.

Those who have implemented the strategy of hiring refugees have seen positive results.

“Employers consistently find that by investing in refugee employees they earn their loyalty and see higher retention rates,” Maltz said.

Based on the guide, 17 percent of refugees are coming from Myanmar, 16 percent from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 14 percent from Iraq, 12 percent from Somalia, and 10 percent from Syria. The guide focuses on entry-level positions in industries such as manufacturing and service, according to Maltz.

“[Refugees] are incredibly motivated, resilient and hardworking people who are looking to rebuild their lives and regain a sense of normalcy after many years of chaos,” says Maltz.

Aysha Ashley Househ is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.