Announcing $1.8 Million Commitment to Advance Inclusive Employer Practices for Immigrant and Refugee Job Seekers and Workers

Thursday December 9, 2021

Support will focus on health care and agricultural sectors, employer collaboration, and worker organizing and power-building

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund today announced the award of US$1.8 million in grants to 12 U.S. and Canadian organizations working to improve the economic mobility of immigrants and refugees. Each of these new grantee partners, selected through an open call for applications, works with employers and workers in a range of sectors such as health care, agriculture, tech, “for hire” driving, and more. Each seeks to deliver relevant, worker-informed solutions that improve job quality and foster inclusive and equitable workplaces and economies.

In the U.S., the Fund awarded grants to Center for Land-Based Learning, Drivers Cooperative, Garment Worker Center, JVS Boston, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, TechEquity Collaborative, and the Greater Portland Workforce Initiativein partnership with the Office of Economic Opportunity and United Way of Southern Maine.

The organizations selected for funding in Canada are Alberta International Medical Graduate Association, Better Way Alliance, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University, Centre for Civic Religious Literacy and partners, and Peel Halton Workforce Development Group.

“Across the U.S. and Canada, workers are demanding better jobs—jobs that pay a living wage, offer good benefits, and provide career and wealth-building opportunities. With a tight labor market and millions of unfilled roles in fast-growing sectors, employers must find ways to create more equitable workplaces and recruit, retain, and upskill immigrant and refugee workers,” said Monica Munn, managing director of philanthropy at WES. “We’re proud to partner with organizations that are leading the way to ensure employers invest in the success of immigrants and refugees so that they can build the careers they desire.”

To address the critical needs experienced by both workers and employers, the Fund’s latest grants support a range of strategies, including sector-specific approaches, tools and resources that foster employer collaboration, and worker-organizing and power-building initiatives.

Health Care and Agriculture Sectors

Several of the Fund’s new grants target specific sectors where there is great potential for immigrant workers to be hired and contribute their skills, but where barriers remain.

The health care sector in Canada and the U.S. faces critical labor shortages and yet many immigrants who are trained and ready to enter the workforce are unable to do so. In Canada, for example, 47 percent of workers with health education from abroad are un- or underemployed. The Alberta International Medical Graduate Association will explore alternative career pathways that offer greater access to international medical graduates (IMGs), who currently face barriers to licensure in Canada and are therefore unable to practice.

Immigrants in the agricultural sector have long filled many jobs, yet issues around job quality have persisted. Immigrant farmworkers make up approximately 73 percent of agricultural workers in the U.S. In Canada, temporary migrant agricultural workers account for half of the country’s paid agricultural workforce. In both the U.S. and Canada, farmworkers often work under dangerous conditions and have limited opportunity to advance.

Support from the Fund will enable organizations to work with agricultural employers to shift practices and create better, more dignified job opportunities. For example, in California, the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL) will launch a new project to upskill immigrant workers and train them for managerial positions where they can earn higher wages, assume more responsibility, and influence working conditions.

Employer Collaboration and Peer Learning

Several of the Fund’s new partners are working directly with employers and within the workplace to foster peer-to-peer collaboration; to share tactics that increase equity in hiring processes and the workplace; and to create better visibility into the quality of jobs and opportunities offered by specific employers.

In Ontario, Better Way Alliance will expand its network of “decent work” employers., and work with current members – who employ over 30,000 Ontarians – to improve workplace conditions.  Better Way Alliance will also develop case studies on the importance of decent work practices, such as fair wages, scheduling laws, and paid sick leave.

“We are thrilled to work with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to raise the floor for immigrant workers through lasting policy change and to empower business leaders to make the business case for decent work,” said Gilleen Pearce, coordinator at Better Way Alliance. By advocating better working conditions and employment practices, Better Way Alliance seeks to advance a more resilient economy for all, including immigrants and refugees.

Worker Power-building and Organizing

A handful of the Fund’s new grants focus on worker power-building and organizing to reimagine employment models that center worker dignity and wealth and uplift the perspectives of immigrant workers who are closest to the challenges, and closest to potential solutions.

Drivers Cooperative, a driver-owned rideshare company launched by over 4,000 New York City drivers, is an example of this model of reform. Support from the Fund will help to grow the cooperative’s membership and to promote opportunity and equity through worker-ownership, and to model effective worker-led business practices in the “for hire” driving industry – a sector that attracts many immigrant workers.

“When most New Yorkers hail a car with an app, they’re thinking about their own mobility, not the social mobility of the driver who is helping them get from point A to point B in their lives,” said Erik Forman, a co-founder of the Drivers Cooperative. “We are grateful to the WES Mariam Assefa Fund for seeing the immigrant workers behind the wheel and with this support, we will be able to go the distance for our members to bring about systemic change in the industry.”

“Through each of these grants, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund will enable more employers to tap into the diverse range of perspectives and talents that immigrants and refugees bring to the workforce,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director at WES. “This work uplifts immigrant workers across multiple industries, drives systems change tailored to a range of diverse sectors, and supports WES’ broader vision of a future in which everyone is able to put their education, experience, and skills to work anywhere in the world.”


About World Education Services and the Mariam Assefa Fund

World Education Services (WES) is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to helping international students, immigrants, and refugees achieve their educational and career goals in the United States and Canada. For more than 45 years, WES has set the standard of excellence in the field of international academic credential evaluation. Its philanthropic arm, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, supports catalytic leaders and organizations working to build inclusive economies and to ensure that immigrants and refugees can achieve their aspirations and thrive.

For more information, contact: 

Silan Akgul, Communications Manager, [email protected]

Stay in Touch

Thank you for your interest in the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. We’ll share updates on the Fund’s efforts, what we’re learning, and opportunities through our email list.