Resettlement agencies have undertaken Herculean efforts to help Afghans like Kabir and his family find housing, enroll children in school and provide English-language training. They have been joined by local churches, community groups and families from Texas to California to Virginia, opening their arms in inspiring ways to their new neighbors.
But the single most important step in the journey of a refugee is landing a job, and yet, many of them are still struggling to do so. They might lack English fluency; have resumes with work experiences, certifications or company names that are unfamiliar to hiring personnel; or face transportation challenges due to the fact that they lack drivers’ licenses. Companies need to step up to lower barriers for Afghans (and other refugees) to work — both to provide decent jobs, and to offer a ladder from entry-level work to jobs that reflect their backgrounds and qualifications.
Ultimately, refugees want a hand up, not a handout. Securing decent work is the moment that refugees find the dignity of providing for themselves and their families, and when they can begin to put down roots in their new community.
Thanks to efforts like these, many thousands of Afghans have now found decent jobs in the US, including Kabir. On April 11, he started as a procurement associate at Pfizer. It’s a new start for Kabir. As he puts it, “Now I am rebuilding my life from the zero point.”
One year on, we estimate that more than half of the Afghan refugees seeking employment have found a job; but that means there is still much work to do. Many more companies need to step up to hire Afghan refugees — making modest investments to overcome language, transportation and other barriers. And while entry-level jobs in sectors like hospitality, food services and retail are absolutely critical for providing refugees with the opportunity to make a living, improve their English and learn the soft skills of navigating the American workplace, these jobs must be the start, not the end-point of their professional journey. Through mentorship, training and career advancement opportunities, companies must do more to help Afghans grow into jobs that make the most of their skills.
Despite all that has happened, Kabir thanks destiny for bringing him to America. We can’t let him down.