Refugees discuss employment challenges with Attorney General

Ahmad Razawy introduces himself to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson during an employment orientation for resettled refugees at Jewish Family Service of Seattle in Kent, WA. From left, Ferguson; Jewish Family Service of Seattle CEO Will Berkovitz; Julia Morse, employment case manager; and Razawy. (Photo by Aliah Elaoud)

Nawid Atayee, a refugee from Afghanistan, spent years working for the U.S. and the U.N. and has a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Still, he says refugees can have a difficult time transferring their education and skills from their countries to the professional workforce in the U.S.

“For us, the knowledge, the work experience we bring from ours is not 100 percent counted,” said Atayee.

Atayee now works as a development representative for Starbucks and is currently taking classes at Highline College to add skills to his resume.

Atayee related his experience to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who visited locally resettled refugees in Kent on Wednesday.

Ferguson, who has sued President Donald Trump’s travel bans on the basis that they unfairly target Muslims, joined a half-dozen refugees from Afghanistan and The Democratic Republic of Congo at an employment orientation held by the resettlement agency, Jewish Family Service of Seattle. Ferguson asked them to discuss some of the challenges they have faced since arriving in the U.S.

Other refugees told the attorney general about the difficult transition from being unemployed and eligible for social services to getting a job and losing that financial support. Many of the entry-level jobs they are initially qualified for do not pay enough compared to the high cost of housing in the Puget Sound region.

Ferguson said his office could help with legal issues related to their civil rights or immigration status in the U.S.

“I might not be able to solve the problem of housing costs that you have, but what I can address is if your landlord is not treating you fairly. Then my office can help.”

Housing affordability as well as availability has been an increasingly difficult challenge for refugees in King county, according to Cordelia Revells, director of refugee and immigrant services at JFS.

Refugee families must balance rent payments with other necessities such as childcare. She said it takes time for their clients to progress to higher wage positions.

“It’s a huge struggle,” she said.

She said the agency is putting a lot of its energy towards helping them move up the career and economic ladders.

Jewish Family Service offers employment orientations and workshops to help refugees learn how to get jobs in the United States. In these classes, refugees and other immigrants can learn how to write a resume, how to tailor a cover letter to a specific job and how to be strategic about career goals by networking or by getting an additional certification.

The classes also cover things you might not know if you’re an immigrant, like what types of questions employers can and can’t ask a job applicant.

Most of the refugees visited by the attorney general came here on special visas given to them for their support of U.S. Armed Forces overseas. But many of them also came with degrees in computer science and work experience ranging from technical management to teaching, interpreting and journalism. One of the main goals of the orientations is to help bridge that gap between the expertise a refugee gained in their country of origin and U.S. cultural norms in professional employment.

Once achieved, refugees are on the path to JFS’s ultimate goal: to see them fully integrated into their community.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the organization Jewish Family Service of Seattle. This has been corrected.