Going on its fifth year now, the Refugee Services Employment Services Program (ESP) is a rapid employment program for newly arrived refugees. Rapid employment means that refugees in this program must find a job within six months of their arrival in Oregon. During that time, Catholic Charities covers their bills, including their electric and water bills, their rent, and provides monthly cash assistance. Once the individual is employed and they begin to have their own income, the financial assistance ceases, but the case management supports continue.
Jaafar Jama, Refugee Employment Specialist at Catholic Charities of Oregon, connects refugees, asylees, and human trafficking survivors to employment. He shared:
“This is a very good program for somebody who is ready to go to work, and it gives them that financial support that other programs in the state don’t provide. When people first arrive in this country, their biggest worry is ‘Can I find financial support while I’m in the process of employment?’ Our program removes that worry by allowing newly arrived refugees to find employment without having to worry about paying bills, etc.”
Finding work can be one of the biggest difficulties refugees face, so employment is a top priority in refugee resettlement work. Employment provides income, which provides stability for refugees and their families and helps them on a path to self-sufficiency.
The ESP not only includes help with workforce placement, but it also offers pre-employment coaching, resume building, interview prep, and assistance for filling out job applications. Additionally, throughout the six-month program, Catholic Charities “works directly with our client [the newly employed staff member] and the employer so they are well connected,” explains Jaafar. “Being that bridge between the employer and our client is the gap that we fill.”
Jaafar elaborates, saying:
“Newly arrived refugees don’t have a safety net, and Catholic Charities becomes an anchoring point for them. Without this program they would be lost, because they wouldn’t have anyone to guide them through all the challenges that come with employment such as taxes, culture, and how to navigate the workplace.”
Through the ESP, Catholic Charities works with 15 active local employers who hire directly from our agency. “We have close relationships with those employers who come to us directly and ask if we have anyone that is a good fit for one of their job openings,” said Jaafar. The Employment Services Program has been able to connect hundreds of refugees with their first and second jobs. In the last two years, Catholic Charities has helped place 18 refugees at one local employer and over 20 at another. Jaafar illustrates the importance of helping newly arrived refugees find work to support their new lives:
“Many of the refugees [we work with] have been in detention centers and refugee camps for over eight years before coming to the U.S., have not been in contact with their families or society, and have forgotten the meaning of life. When they come to the U.S., it gives them an opportunity to restart. These are quite tough people to start life all over again. Quite resilient people. I don’t think the average person would bounce back like that after many, many years of being in a refugee camp or detention center and with all the non-visible, mental challenges. But, these people still come here and start life over again. I find their stories remarkable.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ESP has been able to support refugees who lost their jobs or were furloughed by helping them apply for unemployment benefits and unemployment insurance. Now that employers are starting to hire again, Catholic Charities is experiencing an influx of employers reaching out to us for referrals, because they trust that the ESP is reliable, supported by the Catholic Charities team, and they value the strong work ethic of refugees.
“The employers make this program a success,” said Jaafar. “They work closely with us to help refugees and immigrants connect to employment, and they hire them despite the barriers of language and culture because they know how committed refugees and immigrants are to their work and they know they have a strong work ethic—they are punctual, dependable, and they get the job done.”