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St. Louis' immigrant, refugee workforce to get assistance from federal grant

(from left) Anna Crosslin, Eduardo Hernandez Sequeira and Amanda Bergson-Schilcock discussed the possibilities and limitations for immigrants seeking employment in the United States.
(from left) Anna Crosslin, Eduardo Hernandez Sequeira and Amanda Bergson-Schilcock discussed the possibilities and limitations for immigrants seeking employment in the United States.

Despite bipartisan consensus over the economic importance of immigrant and refugee labor, many immigrants struggle to find their footing when first attempting to find work in the United States.

Specifically, immigrants with specialized training or higher education degrees in their countries of origin often find it difficult to find comparable work in their new home.

Instead of finding work for which they’ve had training and experience, many immigrants find themselves taking on low paying blue collar work, in what Anna Crosslin called on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air a, “waste of brainpower and a real way that we’re hampering American businesses.”

Crosslin is the president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, which was recently awarded a three-year federal grant to diminish the roadblocks preventing immigrants – refugees in particular – from achieving gainful employment. This grant will enable the institute to hire new staffers and provide financial aid to refugees.

“Policy makers… are recognizing that if we want to create an economy that works for everybody, that means making sure that our workforce and our training systems are intentionally inclusive,” explained Amanda Bergson-Schilcock, director of upskilling policy at the National Skills Coalition in Washington, D.C., who also contributed to the conversation.

She added that a major aspect of finding work for immigrants is “teaching people codebreaking,” or, ensuring that job seekers abide by American notions of professional etiquette during the employment process.

Eduardo Sequeira Hernandez also joined the conversation, and he echoed Bergson-Schilcock’s “codebreaking” notion from firsthand experience. As a recent Costa Rican immigrant, Sequeira Hernandez said he encountered obstacles when seeking work before attaining his current position as a cloud compliance specialist for Nestlé Purina.

He noted that one of his greatest barriers to finding work was an inability when he first immigrated to navigate the intricate social cues of the American workplace – the “soft-skills” of American professionalism.

According to Crosslin, implementing programs to eliminate employment obstacles for immigrants is part of answering a broader question about the American economy: “Do immigrants have value or not?”

“Well,” said Crosslin, “the businesses in this country would say, ‘Absolutely they do.’”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan, and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Xandra Ellin is so psyched to join the St. Louis on the Air team as this fall’s production intern! Xandra graduated from Wesleyan University this spring with a degree in Psychology and American Studies. She found ways to incorporate a passion for radio into her academic pursuits, with an honors thesis that dealt with the psychological and sociocultural phenomena that have historically made localized radio a viable mechanism for social change in American communities. Xandra’s career in public radio began at her college radio station, WESU, where she was the Public Affairs Director by day and a music DJ by night. She has also had two production internships prior to this one: one at WYPR in her home city of Baltimore, MD in 2017 and another at WNPR in Hartford, CT in 2018. When she's not at KWMU, Xandra spends her time going for runs, watching bad reality television, and serving up some quality local artisan brews through her side hustle at the Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton.