Entering the U.S. job market as an immigrant can be as disorienting as walking into the middle of a movie. What’s going on? Why are those people acting this way? Add in a language barrier and it can seem like an impossible challenge—making it difficult for highly skilled immigrants to re-start their careers.
Now working with the New York City Housing Authority, Lorena Flores received a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in population studies and conducted labor market data analysis for the Mexican government. When her husband got a job in San Francisco, they moved without knowing anyone. “We started from zero,” she recalled.
Once Flores got her work permit in March 2019, she began her job search with no success. Fortunately, Flores learned about Upwardly Global, which has used $180,000 from recent Trust grants to help highly skilled, under-employed immigrants with their job searching. There are an estimated 2 million underemployed or unemployed college-educated immigrants in the U.S. and 234,000 in the city. Upwardly Global launched more than 1,000 careers in 2019.
Learning to search the job market
“In Mexico, I had always taken classes in English,” Flores said. “But it’s not the same. It was difficult to translate all my knowledge into English.”
Upwardly Global helped Flores improve her resume and create a LinkedIn profile. She practiced her English through mock interviews, and learned to answer interviewers’ questions more directly and concisely, she said.
When her husband got a new job in New York City, they relocated in December 2019, and Flores began her job search again from zero with help from Upwardly Global’s New York office. The arrival of the pandemic made looking for a job even more challenging, but she landed a video interview with the New York City Housing Authority in March. When she received a follow-up email several weeks later, she assumed it would be like many that she had become too familiar with: “Thanks, but we are moving ahead with someone else.”
But this time she was offered a position.
“I cried when I received that email,” she said. “Because I could not believe it. It was the first time that somebody was giving me that opportunity. I was always thinking: ‘Maybe my English is not so good and maybe I need to practice more, but if someone gives me the opportunity, I will try to do my best.’”
After telling her husband and family, she called Upwardly Global with the good news. “It was a very emotional day,” she said.
Flores began working this past August, and credits the organization with making it happen so quickly. “I feel like they helped me get this job sooner. They helped me improve my English faster and to feel confident and comfortable.”
Taking low-skill jobs to make ends meet
Another participant, information technology professional Mehmet L. (not his real name) and his wife, a lawyer, sought asylum in America in 2016, after a failed coup attempt in Turkey led to a government backlash that saw the arrest and firing of tens of thousands of people.
In the U.S., he was unable to get a job in IT and took low-skill, low-paying jobs such as dishwashing, delivering food, and driving for a ride-share company. He contacted Upwardly Global, which invited him to several networking events and introduced him to IT professionals. The staff coached him on networking and he got a job offer in data analytics.
“This job was a key to a new life in America,” said Mehmet.