refugees welcome

A workforce and training pathway to a resettled life

The Tent Partnership for Refugees works to unite the business community in its support for this population

A recently announced federal program called Uniting for Ukraine is a pathway for Ukrainians fleeing their country to stay in the United States for up to two years. Ukrainians participating in the program must have someone in the U.S. who agrees to provide financial support for the duration of that stay. The door is open for up to 100,000 refugees from the war-torn country.

Even though it’s expected that the majority of Ukrainians will resettle in European countries, the Tent Partnership for Refugees is working to help recent arrivals from Afghanistan settle into life in the U.S. and has developed a resource for American companies designed to help them find work and job training opportunities.

Mobilizing Businesses, Empowering Refugees

The mission of Tent – a New York-based nonprofit with a global presence – is to mobilize the business community to support refugees worldwide. Started in 2016 by Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, it is based on the company’s own experience of hiring a significant number of refugees, now between 20% and 30% of its current workforce.

Yaron Schwartz is the associate director for global partnerships, U.S. lead, for the Tent Partnership for Refugees. He notes that Tent is focused on providing companies with strategic guidance on how to best position themselves to support refugees. Currently, the organization has more than 80 company partners in the U.S.

Yaron Schwartz, Tent Partnership for Refugees (Photo: Tent)

“The leading companies across the United States are stepping up to integrate Afghans into the U.S. workforce, mainly through hiring and training efforts. We are working really closely with those businesses to provide them the support they need to do this work effectively,” says Schwartz.

“Our engagement with nonprofits is, in addition to our corporate members, a key element of what we do at Tent. We are facilitating connections between companies and those local organizations who can help them hire or train Afghans and other refugees,” he adds.

As of March, it’s estimated that organizations around the U.S. have assisted 76,000 Afghan refugees. “The Biden administration pledges to resettle around 95,000 Afghans by the end of 2022,” says Schwartz.

“We’re really just focused on motivating the business community to do more work on this issue and to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.”

Employer Hiring Guidelines

One of the tools Tent is employing is a comprehensive guidebook for companies on what the process looks like for hiring Afghan talent. “That is particularly important because Afghans are arriving with a number of different legal statuses and all those legal statuses have different work authorization documents that are correspondent to them,” explains Schwartz.

The result of a collaboration between the Tent Partnership for Refugees and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS): the U.S. Employers’ Guide to Hiring Afghan Refugees.

While it is common to refer to the population as a whole as refugees, there is a fact sheet in the guidebook that details the various legal statuses, including special immigrant visa holders, SQ/SI parolees, humanitarian parolees, and refugees.

Says Schwartz, “I do think that companies are thinking about what skills Afghans are coming to the United States with and also, ‘How can we offer training?’”

He says there are a number of positive reasons for tapping into this talent pool, “What are the business benefits for hiring from this population? Look at things like higher retention rates for the average refugee employee. Look at positive consumer perceptions from engaging with this population, and really bringing in very innovative, hardworking, loyal talent into your workforce.”

Boots on the Ground

One person who is actively helping Afghan refugees start their new lives is Yohannes Berhane, business engagement liaison for Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) – which serves the greater Washington, D.C. area. Currently, the Maryland office is working with 700 Afghan refugees.

Yohannes Berhane, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (Photo: LSSNCA)

Says Berhane, “I work with the employment team closely to secure employment for our clients. Any employment activity, starting from enrollment, resume creating, updating resumes, job training, financial literacy sessions.”

Regarding clients, Berhane says, “Most of them are educated because one thing we should remember is these clients used to work with the U.S. Army back in Afghanistan. Most of them speak English, are educated. Some of them have one degree, even two degrees. I even had two, three Ph.D.’s in the past.”

For those who are not fluent in English, Berhane says clients can enroll in free English language classes at one of the area’s community colleges. In addition, volunteers meet with clients a couple times a week to practice language skills.

Berhane mentions Refugee Support Services as a resource for newly arrived refugees. “It assists clients with employment. That means, once we place someone in a job, if he wants to upgrade to another job after one year, he can come back to us. If there is any better-paying job, we can help him update the resume for job applications.”

Berhane says the response from employers regarding Afghan refugees has been strong. “I have been working as a job developer for the last six years. I was job developer, senior job developer, now business engagement – so I have good experience in this. In the past, we are the ones doing outreach to connect with new employers.”

“This one is different. Afghanis are coming in big numbers. Employers are the ones contacting us. ‘I want to hire Afghanis, five Afghanis. I want to hire them.’ Everyone wants to help. I was moved by this,” says Berhane.

He says large companies, including Amazon, Walmart, and Deloitte have participated in job fairs that LSSNCA clients attend.

Because employers in the area have hired Afghan refugees in years past, Berhane says they understand the culture. “They give them a chance to learn. Some employers, once they start hiring five, six Afghanis, ask us, ‘Could you please refer someone who speaks good English so that he can work as a supervisor?’ so that he can solve the language problem.”

Building a Jobs Database

Jim McCoy, senior vice president of enterprise solutions, ManpowerGroup, leads a group that supports the procurement of talent for companies.

Jim McCoy, ManpowerGroup (Photo: ManpowerGroup)

Manpower is a coalition member of Tent and McCoy says, “There was no one place that employers could say, ‘Here are jobs that we think are ready for Afghanis right now – knowing some of the opportunities and limitations.’ So, we built an employment exchange which actually resides on Welcome.US. As an employer, I can submit roles that I think are ready for Afghanis.”

“As a resettlement worker or a refugee, I can go in and I can see what jobs are available in the community that I’m looking to relocate to. Lots of moving parts and moving factors for an individual, but what we wanted to do was make it as easy as possible for them to see what was available and how that company would support you as a refugee coming to the U.S.”

McCoy says, “What we have done in the employment exchange is we’ve loaded every city where we know there to be resettlement agency support. There are nine agencies that are designated by the federal government and have received grants from the government to support Afghan resettlement.

Similar to LSSNCA’s Berhane, McCoy says employers are really stepping up. “Some companies are just doing phenomenal work when it comes to thinking about all of the things that need to happen for a refugee.”

McCoy continues, “Tyson Foods provides nine months of rental support for individuals. They also provide onsite health care. That’s a newer concept for many of the refugees. They’re not used to the health care system. If you think about it, all of the things that they have to go through, it’s all brand new.”

“Tyson Foods and Albertsons are two employers that have been, I would say, exceptional at providing roles for individuals with a lower level of education – where you don’t necessarily need to speak English, but you can be effective,” he says.

For refugees with professional backgrounds, McCoy points to Pfizer. “Fort Dix in New Jersey tended to be a location where a lot of people with the special immigrant visas ended up first. Pfizer runs recruiting events on these bases and they have been really good about hiring professionals.”

“They’ve hired individuals with MBAs. People with technical degrees, data scientists. I mean, you name it, individuals with health care specialization. They have been really good at hiring very senior individuals.”

‘A side hustle’

Given McCoy’s family history, it might not be surprising that his work regarding refugees is being done pro bono. He says, “For me, in particular, it’s a side hustle. I’ve got my day job, and this is, ‘How do I in my small way help change the world or make it a better place for people?’”

“My mother was a social worker and worked in resettlement with Vietnamese refugees in my hometown. When this opportunity came up to support this, I volunteered right off the bat. A number of people volunteered to help within our organization. It’s been great outpouring of support – from our CEO down.”