Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Refugee resettlement in Idaho, U.S. drives economic growth

While the July 11 article “Refugees in Idaho find both success, opposition” noted that the vast majority of refugee stories are positive ones, the opposition to refugee resettlement cited in the article is largely based on inaccurate or outdated perceptions. A groundswell of evidence shows that rather than acting as a drain on cities, immigrant and refugee talent drives economic growth and strengthens communities.

The prevailing image of the refugee in the American imagination is one of poverty and desperation; people who are wholly dependent on our generosity. But the reality is that many of the approximately 70,000 refugees resettled in the United States every year have education, training and skills that our workforce needs.

A recent analysis of Census labor data from 1991 to 2008 by researchers at State University of New York-Buffalo found that as diversity rose one standard deviation in the workplace, wages rose 1.6 percent. A similar rise in the city as a whole increased wages nearly 6 percent. Meanwhile, a 2015 report by McKinsey & Company found that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.

At Upwardly Global, a national nonprofit that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees, we have helped over 2,700 individuals move from unemployment or low-skilled jobs back into the professional workforce. Our alumni include Marwan Sweedan, who was featured in the July 11 article. Marwan’s journey from working a survival job as a hot dog vendor to being recognized by the White House for his contributions to the Boise refugee community is extraordinary, but it’s just one of the stories of resilience and determination we encounter on a daily basis.

A recent alumna, Elisabeth, came to the U.S. three years ago after fleeing violent political repression and ethnic conflict in her home country.

“Settling in a new country meant leaving my family and friends behind but also a chance to build a new life in a land of democracy and opportunity. When I arrived in the U.S., I could not imagine how hard landing a job would be. I worked part time as a baby sitter and then as a cashier while taking English classes,” she said. “I am currently working in my field at a service organization in the California Bay Area that is making a real difference in the community, and I could not be more happy. One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of in my current job is that I created a Finance Standard Operating Procedures to clarify processes, ensure proper controls and improve organizational results.”

In 2014, more than half of the jobs our clients obtained were in fields identified by the ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage Survey as the most difficult to fill, such as engineering, IT, accounting and finance. The resulting income gains from their employment generated $24 million in tax revenue and consumer spending.

This economic impact flows directly into cities like Boise. We are proud to have served as a technical adviser and partner to Global Talent Idaho, which provides job search training and professional connections to help immigrants get back to their fields of expertise. Recognizing the value of this talent pool, many other cities and states have created similar workforce initiatives.

To view refugees as outsiders, victims, or a danger to their communities based on a couple of isolated examples is a narrow and inaccurate lens. Their commitment to rebuilding their lives and contributing their skills is part of the American tradition — and these individuals have a great deal to offer if given the tools to succeed. Welcoming refugees into our communities and our workplaces benefits all of us.

Nikki Cicerani is CEO of Upwardly Global, a national nonprofit organization with a mission to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees, and integrate this population into the workforce. It partners with Global Talent Idaho to deliver employment readiness and placement services in the state.

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