Lea Tienou-Gustafson on the untapped immigrant and refugee talent pool

Thought leaders share ideas with WorkingNation Overheard at JFF Horizons 2023

“We know that refugees and immigrants are largely an untapped talent pool in the United States,” says Lea Tienou-Gustafson, senior director, Mariam Assefa Fund at World Education Services. “We have a labor shortage – and refugees and immigrants really can provide vital labor in many industries.”

She notes that many immigrants and refugees have earned degrees in their home countries with skills that are transferable.

WorkingNation sat down with Tienou-Gustafson at JFF Horizons in New Orleans.

“I think there is great appetite for folks to explore what those barriers are for immigrants and refugees to enter the workforce. And then for employers to sort of follow suit, as well,” says Tienou-Gustafson.

“I do think that many employers have recognized that they can gain by adding refugees and immigrants to the workforce, yet there’s still significant work to be done in that regard. They’re people with real lives and challenges that come with those lives.”

Tienou-Gustafson adds, “There’s really an onus on employers to provide wraparound supports as much as possible. Some of those supports can include access to on-the-job English language training so as people are working, they’re also gaining English language proficiency and able to move up in the workforce. We know that for many immigrants and refugees, especially those who are newly arrived, access to transportation is often a barrier or childcare presents a significant barrier. I think employers really have an opportunity to learn from their immigrant and refugee workforce.”

Learn more about Mariam Assefa Fund at World Education Services.