New Workforce Initiative Will Connect Immigrants and Refugees in Rural Areas with Employment Opportunities

Thursday October 13, 2022

BOSTON (OCT. 3, 2022) – Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national non-profit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, today announced an ambitious two-year initiative for economic advancement for immigrants, refugees, and migrant workers in rural areas. The Rural Immigrant Success Exchange (RISE), a partnership with Ascendium and the World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund, will build a network of education and training providers that will break down barriers to education, training, and employment for immigrant and refugee workers in rural communities residing across the United States.  

“Immigrants and refugees have established themselves as valued economic contributors in rural communities. They open small businesses and provide a vital source of talent in diverse industries like manufacturing, agriculture, health care, and construction,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF. “At a time when rural and remote communities are grappling with business stagnation, population decline, and policy disinvestment, investing in the skills and talents of immigrants and refugees can help to strengthen rural businesses and revitalize communities.” 

In partnership with WES and Ascendium, JFF will identify, recruit, and select 10 organizations providing workforce training to immigrants and refugees in rural communities across the nation to form a learning community. This opportunity is open to community-based organizations, training and education providers, economic development organizations, and workforce development boards. Selected organizations will receive $150,000 over the two-year grant period and participate in JFF-led technical assistance activities including sharing and adopting best practices for career navigation, participant support, and job readiness, with peer institutions, RISE funders, and other stakeholders.  

“Immigrants and refugees comprise a significant and growing proportion of rural populations and are well-positioned to fill key talent gaps and contribute to their local communities,” said Lauren Crain, associate director of U.S. programs and strategy at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “This unique capacity-building project will invest in rural-based organizations that are supporting the success of immigrants and refugees in their communities. Through this initiative, we seek to better understand the needs of immigrants in rural communities and surface solutions to dismantle the barriers they face in accessing career training and education programs and high-quality jobs.” 

RISE will explore avenues to support these learners through contextualizing and enhancing proven strategies for the unique needs of this population. Research and evaluation will be at the core of the new initiative. Over the next two years, a team of researchers at JFF will collaborate with participating education and training providers to build a community of practice that will surface new insights into the needs, barriers, and aspirations of rural immigrant, migrant, and refugee workers. 

“Rural immigrants, migrants, and refugees have the potential to fill workforce needs and achieve upward socioeconomic mobility, yet we know little about the organizations supporting these learners and the strategies they use to help them gain access to education and training,” said Keith Witham, director of education grantmaking at Ascendium. “This project takes an asset-based approach, identifying the most innovative organizations and shining a light on what’s working as they serve these diverse populations of rural learners from low-income backgrounds.” 

While immigrants represent a smaller share of residents of rural areas than urban areas, a 2018 Pew Research Center analysis found that since 2000, immigrants have accounted for 37 percent of the net new population growth in rural counties and have accounted for the majority of U.S. population growth since 1965. Despite their positive impact on local and regional economies, rural immigrants, migrants, and refugees face additional barriers to accessing stable and meaningful employment, including hiring bias, exploitation in the workplace, limited financial resources, and limited English proficiency. 

JFF is inviting applicants to register their interest in participating in RISE until October 31, 2022, by completing an initial interest form. Selected organizations will be contacted to complete a comprehensive application. For more information, please contact Paige Korbakes at [email protected] 

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