White House highlights employer, municipal roles in refugee and immigrant integration

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, July 05, 2016

Two events last week highlighted the crucial role that municipal leaders and US employers can play in facilitating the skill-building and economic integration of refugees and immigrants.

First, the White House announced a Call to Action for the U.S. private sector to make new, measurable and significant commitments that will have a durable impact on refugees. 

The Call to Action is being issued as part of a suite of activities in advance of an international Leaders’ Summit being convened by President Obama this coming September. It is focused on generating new commitments in three impact areas: 

  • Education – Facilitating refugee children and young adults’ education by ensuring that refugee students can access schools of all levels and creating quality long-distance learning platforms and programs.
  • Employment – Increasing employment opportunities for refugees, supporting refugee entrepreneurship, and assisting refugees’ reentry into the workforce.
  • Enablement – Increasing humanitarian financing, strengthening infrastructure and access to resources needed for refugees to become self-reliant, and supporting countries taking new steps to welcome refugees or allow them to work and attend school.

The Call to Action highlighted fifteen founding companies that have already taken significant action on refugee issues both in the US and abroad, including support for English language, digital literacy, and employability skills. The companies are: Accenture, Airbnb, Chobani, Coursera, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, IBM, JPMorgan Chase & Co., LinkedIn, Microsoft, Mastercard, UPS, TripAdvisor, and Western Union.

The second event brought approximately 150 local leaders to the White House to recognize their work in integrating immigrant refugee newcomers in their communities via the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign (BWCC). 

National Skills Coalition is one of the national partners for the BWCC, serving as a resource for policy questions related to workforce and adult education issues. NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock attended the White House event.

More than 50 American cities and counties have now joined the campaign, which formally launched last year. The White House released a report detailing “Bright Spots” in immigrant and refugee integration policies across dozens of the communities, including:

  • The City of Charlotte (NC), which in collaboration with its Immigrant Integration Implementation Team hosted a convening that showcased local companies with apprenticeship programs, and discussed how to incorporate immigrant workers in these programs.  
  • Welcoming Salt Lake (UT), which is working with employers to pilot onsite English classes for New American employees.
  • The City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which work in partnership with the nonprofit International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) to develop career pathways for immigrants and refugees, including through IISTL’s new International Institute Center for Career Advancement.

Attendees at the BWCC event were welcomed by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC). Other federal officials addressing the gathering included: Leon Rodriguez, Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services; Rohan Patel, Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; and Felicia Escobar, also of the DPC.

Also speaking at the event was Rachel Peric, deputy director of the nonprofit Welcoming America, who noted the rapid growth of the welcoming effort: “Just a few years ago it was 10 cities, and now we’re at 50.” She added: “The question is not whether our communities will change… it is how we will make the most of that change in ways that will strengthen our civic fabric.”

The event concluded with a panel of federal officials, who described steps taken in their agencies to support refugee and immigrant skill-building and integration:

  • John Kelly of the Corporation for National and Community Service discussed the role of AmeriCorps/VISTA members in facilitating immigrant and refugee integration.
  • Juliet Choi of US Citizenship and Immigration Services emphasized the growing range of resources offered by USCIS to support naturalization and English language acquisition, including an online English and citizenship class locator.
  • Chris James of the Small Business Administration highlighted the SBA’s Made It In America initiative to support immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • Johan Uvin of the Department of Education emphasized the value of place-based strategies in supporting immigrants’ English language and skill-building. He referenced the administration’s prior Networks for Integrating New Americans initiative and offered a preview of a forthcoming effort to connect adult English learners to career pathways.