Amanda Bergson-Shilcock is director of outreach and program evaluation at the nonprofit Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia, which Knight Foundation supports to help harness and retain immigrant talent.
By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock
I still remember Marcel (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy). He came into our office one day, a young Haitian man eager to make his mark on the world. In his native country, he’d been a doctor.
In this one, he was washing cars—for $6.25 an hour.
Becoming an obstetrician would have been an extraordinary achievement in any country. It was even more so in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Marcel’s determination shone through as he talked with our employment specialist.
Marcel was far from the first immigrant jobseeker to walk through our doors. The staff at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is skilled at helping immigrants find their first U.S. jobs, having placed more than 1,200 legally work-authorized individuals in employment over the last decade.
For many of the men and women we work with, these are so-called survival jobs – a significant step down from their earlier careers. Such entry-level jobs are not a long-term solution, but the government contracts that have funded our work don’t give us the time to do more than make an immediate job placement. And as our former director of employment, herself a refugee, used to say wryly, “You have to work if you want to eat.”