No knowledge of English? You can still get a job in the USA

"SO HELP ME GOD" After interviews, language and history tests, and having had a residence permit for a few years, you can become an American citizen.

Find a job, become self-supporting as soon as you can. The language you can learn later.

This is the US model.

Foto: Pontus Höök
"WE CAN TAKE MORE" IRC vice president Robert J. Carey thinks the 70 000 refugees president Bush has allowed for this year is not enough.

Every year ten non-governmental organizations see to it that about 75,000 refugees can manage on their own and get integrated into society. The state should have as little responsibility as possible.

”Of the employable refugees that we track, over 95 percent have been employed for two months at the end of six months,” says IRC vice president Robert J. Carey.

Here in the IRC, New York office, in the Chanin Building in Midtown Manhattan, there are four caseworkers employed at the moment, most of them refugees themselves, whose job it is to help the newly arrived.

”They can really point out that if you work hard you can progress in the jobmarket pretty quick. That provides a role model for incoming refugees,” says IRC vice president Robert J. Carey when he receives us in the small corner room on the 12th floor.

In Sweden it is recommended that the refugee learn the language first and then find a job?

”I think that’s one area where we would clearly disagree,” Carey says. ”In our experience the best way to learn the language is on the job. We try to put refugees in employment, and if possible take language classes in non-working hours. For many refugees, to do it in a strictly academic environment means they often do not learn that much. Some people do, but in general the way you learn any language is when you are using it in your daily life.”

Is the acceptance of poor language skills greater in the US?

”There seems to be a pretty broad acceptance here. Not knowing English does not prevent people from finding a job in the United States.”

Having a job is the most important thing

Among the non-governmental organizations in the United States, it is not only considered economically beneficial to the country that the refugees quickly find a job and become self-supporting; having a job enhances the refugees’ well-being and self-esteem.

”Many refugees have been traumatized and the best therapy is to be working. The work restores their self-reliance and gives them dignity, self-worth and well-being. Our experience bears that out,” Carey says.

There are exceptions, however, where perhaps the US government should assume a greater responsibility, says Carey, and gives us an example: the single refugee women with many children who have lost their husbands.

”The US system after the welfare reform does not allow much cushion for them. So far most of them seem to be managing, but we are just hitting the end of the five-year-mark of the reform program. The next year or two are going to be very telling.”

At best, the financial assistance from the NGOs will only cover the first four months for newly arrived refugees. Services and voluntary assistance can be offered for up to six months.

For those who cannot match the requirements for self-reliance (”only a small percentage,” according to uncorroborated information from several NGOs), there is the possibility of seeking a US variant of social assistance: food stamps, housing allowance, or money subsidies. This, however, is only provided during a limited period of time of three months.

At the offices of one of the other NGOs, The Church World Service, Joseph Roberson (head of the refugee program), describes results which are similar to those of the IRC.

”Almost all the refugees we receive manage to become self-reliant within 30 to 180 days.”

Robert J. Carey assures us that the US refugee policy has broad support from the political parties. He sees several reasons for this:

”The fact that the US has such a tradition in welcoming immigrants, and the fact that we were founded as a country for those fleeing persecution. At the same time, there is a tradition of self-sufficiency, people can come here and make it as other people have before them, like their ancestors did, if they just support themselves and work hard. This is a land of opportunity. And I think that for many of us also the US is a land that embraces diversity.”

Carey believes it is a major advantage with the IRC and the other refugee organizations that they are non-governmental and that they base their work on voluntary efforts and donations: the refugees come to places where they are quickly put in contact with voluntary workers, whom are often themselves former refugees. The IRC cultivates and prepares the community: schools, landlords, employers, the police. The refugees are informed about life in the United States, and the host community receives information about what can be expected from the refugees.

”We try not to isolate. We have a lot of community supporters who are actually helping refugees to find their way around. Our goal is to have each refugee family paired with a volunteer.”

Carey emphasizes that community efforts are crucial. Political support both on the national and the local level lead to integration, he says.

”It is not just a government action, it is a government and community action and an action of the people.”

Carey speaks about the importance of volunteer work and, with a smile, provides a fresh example from real life: a true American success story where two Bosnian engineers in Charlottesville, Virginia, were lucky enough to be put in contact with the right volunteer.

”The volunteer knew the owner of an engineering firm. This owner paid for them to go to CAD design school. Then they went to work for his company. Within six months they were making more money than the director of our office by the day. I went down and visited them. They have now built a new, beautiful house. That’s just not something that we could have done alone. It was the volunteers who helped them, that was the extra step.”

The US president decided that during the present fiscal year (October 1, 2001 to September 30, 2002), the United States would receive 70,000 quota refugees. But the attack against New York on September 11 dramatically changed the situation.

The INS personnel were immediately recalled from refugee camps all over the world to learn new, stricter security controls (most have now gone back). Up until December of last year no quota refugees were admitted into the country. Now, at the end of May, the IRC, which normally receives between 8,000 and 12,000 refugees per fiscal year, has only received around 1,200 refugees.

How many of the 70,000 will you be able to receive this year?

”If we are lucky, and if there is a lot of movement, I would say half.”

According to Carey, the September 11 attacks have not hit newly arrived refugees through increased xenophobia.

”As a matter of fact we have actually seen an outpouring of public support for the program which is very heartening. There has been a lot of community support, letters to Congress saying that this program is part of the American tradition of diversity and that it is a part of why we have been attacked.”

Will this affect the number of quota refugees next year?

”We are concerned that it might, we hope that it will not. Because it can also affect the funding. If the funds are not used this year, then the way some of these government appropriations work, we’re concerned they will cut them next year. We get different messages from people in Washington. We are hopeful that people will understand that this is a very unusual year.”

The IRC believes that the United States should be able to receive more quota refugees, perhaps up to 100,000. But the 1980s level of 200,000 per year would not be feasible right now. According to Robert J. Carey, the Bush administration will increase the number of quota refugees to around 90,000 for the next fiscal year, and there have been indications of an even larger number the year after that.

”I don’t think we would want do double the program in a short period of time. What we would like to do is to grow the program. We do not have a fixed number in our heads, a lot of it is in response to what the world refugee problems are, who are in need of resettlement. Those numbers have not gone down, they only continue to grow.”

The insufficient integration of refugees in Sweden has been harshly criticized, according to one survey only one out of ten refugees is self-supporting after three years, another shows that half are unemployed after five years. Do you have any suggestions to the Swedish government?

”I don’t know how the Swedish system operates. I wouldn’t want to judge it, because I’m sure some wonderful things exist in it that we don’t have here.”

The refugee resettlement model


Asylum seekers at the United States border

Maria Trägårdh, Bo Lidén