The WES Mariam Assefa Fund sees the COVID-19 crisis as a time to ensure our grantee partners flexibility so they can continue their work of building an inclusive, resilient economy for immigrants and refugees. The United States would not be able to respond to the pandemic without the skills and talent of the immigrant workforce. Our partners are doing valuable work across the country to support these workers, and we are proud to share our grantees’ contributions with the broader field.  Over the next month, we’ll be profiling the Fund’s grantee partners, highlighting the vital work each organization is undertaking to support immigrant communities through the immediate crisis and build more equitable workforce, educational, and financial systems in the long-term.

Upwardly Global (UpGlo), a grantee partner of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, seeks to eliminate employment barriers that immigrants and refugees face. As COVID-19 began to disrupt the economy, UpGlo sought to gain real-time insight into the experiences of its clients in order to inform its response. A needs assessment survey of nearly 80 of the organization’s job seeker clients revealed that 50 percent had lost their job or experienced a cut in work hours. Without a primary source of income, these survey respondents are struggling to afford basic necessities like food or medicine, and many have little or no savings. 

The U.S. economy is in a state of unprecedented decline, and job seekers will continue to feel the impacts for the foreseeable future. UpGlo’s survey also showed that 40 percent of respondents have encountered weak job market, hiring freezes, and credential and training programs that are now suspended. Facing this uncertainty, one in three respondents shared that they are navigating the emotional effects of the pandemic’s unknown implications. 

Despite the bleak economic outlook, the majority of job seekers want to be prepared when the economy reopens. They want to continue investing in themselves by developing new skills through online training or virtual coaching. UpGlo had started providing virtual programming even before the pandemic, to ensure client accessibility. Using rapid response funding from the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, along with other funding, UpGlo is expanding its virtual programming to adapt to its clients’ changing needsStaff have transitioned to providing remote soft skills coaching to individual job seekers UpGlo offers a robust suite of online job search and skill-building tools to all program participants—and has recently begun to offer access to a wider network of U.S. job seekers and workforce development organizations. The organizationis also planning virtual community-building sessions between employers and those seeking work.  

With many health care professionals in its client base, UpGlo is applying an industry-specific focus to its workin response to the shortage of health care workers. The organization is working in partnership with WES, via theIMPRINT Coalitionto build pathways for internationally trained health care professionals to put their life-saving skills and experience to use during the COVID-19 crisis. UpGlo job seekers have valid degrees in health care and medicine from their home countries, U.S. work authorization, important linguistic and cross-cultural skills, and a willingness to serve during this time. Yet they’ve hit barriers in re-licensing in the United States – a long, complicated, and time-consuming process that keeps an estimate165,000 healthcare professionals from working in the field, according to the Migration Policy InstituteIMPRINT and Upwardly Global are working with government agencies in various states to bolster the pipeline of healthcare workers available to respond to the crisis.  

UpGlo is also thinking long term. Beyond this crisis, the U.S. economy will need the contributions of all workers—including immigrants—as drivers of a resilient and adaptable workforce that can weather future disruptions.  Prior to COVID-19, UpGlohad planned to hold working sessions around the country to build promising practices for U.S. employers to advance the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These sessions are now being held virtually, with a special focus on championing the skills of all workers to build an inclusive economic recovery post-COVID. 

COVID-19 has exposed many of the challenges that immigrants and refugees face in the U.S. UpGlo is working to mitigate the pandemic’s immediate impacts, and to build a stronger, more inclusive workforce for the future. We look forward to sharing more about what UpGlo learns and achieves as they navigate supporting immigrant job seekers and workers in this new environment and economy. 

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