The Center for Refugee Services helps legally resettled refugees and Afghan SIV’s successfully integrate into the San Antonio community and provide employment assistance and opportunities. They have a major advantage over asylum seekers in that legally resettled refugees and Afghan SIV’s are legally authorized to work very quickly after arrival in the US. Obviously, the legal right to work is critical to successful resettlement and community integration.
They want to be productive, contribute to society, and to support their families and communities. Full employment allows them to provide for their own and their family’s needs.
Changes in federal and state immigration policy over the past 12 months has affected how many legal refugees can be resettled in the US and San Antonio.
From Oct 2019 -Sept 2020 only 18,000 legally resettled refugees are allowed into the US. Whereas the numbers for prior years were:
- FY 2019: 30,000
- FY 2018: 45,000
- FY 2017: 110,000
Recently Governor Abbott determined that Texas, a state that previously resettled a large percentage of legally resettled refugees, would no longer accept refugees in 2020. However, this determination does not apply to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holder’s from Afghanistan, who formerly worked with the US military.
San Antonio anticipates some 500 Afghan SIV’s from October 2019 – September 2020. Most of these are young families seeking a safe and free environment in which to raise their children. Information about the SIV program can be found at USCIS.gov and travel.state.gov. To be eligible for this program, the SIV must have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of working for the US.
The Center for Refugee Services maintains a computer/job lab Monday – Friday, 10 am – 3 pm, where refugees and SIV’s, with the assistance of CRS staff and volunteers, are able to write resumes, research job openings and apply on-line to job openings for which they are qualified. Several of CRS’ volunteers have specialized in the area of employment assistance, maintaining close contacts with many of the major employers of refugees/SIV’s in order to update openings.
CRS maintains a bulletin board listing job openings and job fairs in San Antonio. Employment volunteers also provide clients with guidance/practice on job interviewing and how to be a successful employee. Occasionally CRS invites employers to the CRS office in order to interview potential employees on-site. While recent Afghan SIV arrivals may have no job history in the US, CRS volunteers assistance with resumes includes documenting working with the US military in their home countries, which improves their chances for employment locally.
From 11/1/2019 through 3/6/2020, the Center for Refugee Services assisted:
- 87 unduplicated clients on 143 visits with employment assistance in our computer lab.
- Those legally resettled refugees/SIV’s who seek CRS’s employment-related assistance include:
- recent arrivals, who are seeking their first US jobs, and those who have been in the US longer, but may be seeking a new and/or better job as their life and job skills changeover time.
- 15 job applications were made to large retailers and grocers like Walmart, HEB and Amazon.
- 10 job applications were made to restaurants/food services and food packing concerns.
- 5 applications to trucking related jobs, which tend to pay better to those who speak English and have a commercial driving license.
- 7 clients who had good language skills in both English and their native language applied to be US Census workers.
Employment options are shaped by both who is hiring, and more importantly by applicants’ English ability and past employment experience. From October 1, 2019 through March 6, 2020 the 2 largest employers of our clients were Visionworks (11 applications) and ABM (37 applications).
Visionworks provides some medical insurance and pays a higher wage, but requires English ability. ABM is a subcontractor whose jobs include nighttime office cleaning for USAA and some other large facilities. The nighttime USAA ABM shift has managers who are Afghan SIV’s and speak Pashto, which is the dominant language for the Afghan SIV recent arrivals. Therefore, when hired for the night shift they are able to successfully execute their job assignments given in their primary language.
For most legally resettled refugees and SIV’s, the majority of jobs for which they are hired are:
- Minimum or near minimum wage and have no medical insurance, sick leave or vacation time.
- Shifts are often at night, may require lots of standing and, in the case of food packing, are in
frigid, refrigerated warehouses.
- For those refugees/SIV’s who were professionals in their home countries, those licenses and certifications are not valid in the US and would require the refugee/SIV to go back to school and become certified/licensed in the US. Unfortunately, such a training/academic commitment is not possible for most, as they have no funding to cover those costs, and they must be working fulltime to cover their families’ daily living expenses.