Our New Neighbors
Abbas started working for the U.S. Military in Iraq in March 2007 through a sandbags project for the Army Force Protections and soon became a translator. Once Congress approved the Special Immigrant Visa program, Abbas applied and came to Wisconsin in August 2009. Abbas joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 2011 and also received his Master Degree in Economics and started to do live Storytelling with The Moth. In 2016 he started working as an economist for the Department of Commerce and moved to the DC area. His storytelling expanded to many local shows, and he transferred to the Washington DC National Guard, where he served until 2018. Abbas is currently serving on the Homes Not Borders Board of Directors.
What are some challenges you faced when you were first trying to get a job in the United States?
I never got an interview call despite applying for hundreds of jobs, and I believe part of the reason is that my Bachelor Degree is from a private college in Baghdad, and the problem with that is, Iraq was isolated and didn’t participate or care to publish data, so the world cannot rank how good the education system is or how good this university is. Also I never worked in my field of Computer Science so I couldn’t challenge other applicants on that.
How long did it take you to get your career on track in the United States?
Because of what I just talked about, I decided to study and make my resume stronger, so I got my Master’s degree in Economics where I also learned statistical programing and I already know computer programing. I was lucky to land a great position with the Bureau of Economic Analysis – Department of Commerce, and that’s when my career started.
What advice would you give to SIVs/refugees looking for a job?
I would say, if you have the education or the skills and speak good English then keep trying and trying and it will happen. If you have the time and ability to study then do so because it will take you to a better career. All that can happen only if you have a good resume, so try to get help from a professional resume writer, I found mine very helpful, a week after I submitted the resume she helped me with, I got an interview.
Mohammad is from Afghanistan and arrived in the US in March 2020 on an SIV, Special Immigrant VISA, an immigration option that is offered to Iraqi and Afghan nationals who assisted the US Government in their home countries and now face persecution. He holds degrees in Law and Public Policy Administration and in Afghanistan worked with two American companies on US Government sponsored projects as a Curriculum Advisor helping with trainings and capacity building. Mohammad had 5 years of experience in that field working along side the Afghan government and American companies. He has recently started a new job as a financial manager.
What are some challenges you have been facing while trying to get a more permanent job?
Well, unfortunately meeting the demands of the job market here. Back there [in Afghanistan] we used our university and academic certificates, I have a law degree and certificates in public policy administration, a masters degree. You need to have some networks, and find some to help connect us, we don’t have those. [In Afghanistan] your friends making a recommendation for a job and you getting a job [through that] was illegal. Everyone could apply but the one who was choosing could not interview friends or family members. Through this process you know if they are over-qualified, qualified or under qualified [for the job]. In the US it is a thing, I have friends where they get interviews because they have friends who recommend them.
What is your dream job right now?
Actually I would like to return to staff training, I’d like to enter back into that field to start. I’d like to get more responsibilities and face new challenges to gain more knowledge, more experience and more promotions. If I can enter a job in my own field maybe in 5 years I will have more responsibilities and [I] might think about making my own organization that focuses on capacity building programs
What advice would you five to SIVs/refugees looking for a job?
Well actually since I am a new comer here right now there is something I can advise them on. When you arrive here you have to think of yourself as a 7 year old, you have to start everything from zero. Now you have to lower your expectations. You have other people coming [to the US] who had great managerial positions in their country. But here they cannot expect to get back a position like that in the beginning. You have to think about your future here and how to make [yourself] proper for this job market. Maybe they need to change their field of work. Whatever they chose to [work] back in their country, here they have to think differently and see what job markets have available. They [may have to] change their job for the next 5 to 10 years or maybe the rest of their life.
Khalil is from Afghanistan and arrived in Maryland in September 2019 on a Special Immigrant VISA, with his wife and six children. He holds a master’s degree in education and in Afghanistan worked as a Ministerial Liaison between the Afghan Minister of Education and a USAID project focused on capacity building in the Afghan education system. Previously he had over 10 years of experience in the field of education management. He is currently unemployed though seeking a job in either data analysis or project management.
What are some challenges you have been facing while trying to find a job?
It is not easy for people who are coming from outside the United States, especially SIVs. [We] had really good jobs in their home countries, [we] were directors, managers, officers, senior officers, [we] were working in better positions. But when [we] came here in the United States, the job market is not like our own country. [We] need separate experience and education, it all depends on what [experience you have] in the United States.So here we cannot find a job.
[For the last] year I have been searching for a job and have not been successful. The problem is that unfortunately the pandemic caused some difficulties for us [that make it so] we cannot find a job. Many of the people with experience lost their jobs. So in the job market when you are applying for a junior level position, there are so many people with experience and knowledge also applying
So in the US basically, the recruiter can see [looks at] your experience in the United States. If you have experience outside the United States, they will not consider you for a vacant position. That is the problem. I have a Master’s degree in Education and I have more than 10 years experience in that field. Teacher training, coordination, management, data management, data coordination, data analysis. But even with this experience I cannot find a job.
What is your dream job right now?
In the last year I studied data analysis, [I took] a 6 month course. I completed that course and also have some previous experience in the field of data collection and data analysis. I am currently applying for some junior level data analysis positions and also data coordination, knowledge/information management, data entry jobs. I am not applying for senior level positions, just junior or entry level positions. But it is also difficult to find a job. Besides that I am also interested in education project management, in education coordination, because I have a lot of experience in that field. And also training design and training activities, management coordination.
What advice would you give to other SIVs/refugees looking for a job?
There are many things that would say to answer that. The first is that they should not consider senior level positions, because that is very difficult, they cannot use their previous experience in Afghanistan or any other country here. Second, they should improve their language literacy, our English is not great, we cannot write a complicated proposal and present what we know. [So] they should improve their English. And third, they should also improve their knowledge and focus on a specific job. In Afghanistan, I was a minister liaison director, so that was a really general area job, I was working on many different activities. Here in the United States, it is necessary for a person to focus on one area, like data analysis, one software, one specific area. He or she should improve that area, get knowledge in that area, study some courses and get some certificates. In this way they can find a job.