As we pass the midway mark of the Global Talent Bridge Skilled Immigrant Integration Program, which involves eight U.S. communities working to advance immigrant success, the Ohio team reports great momentum.
“We’ve been very successful in getting the attention of Governor Kasich’s office,” says Nadia Kasvin, co-founder and director of US Together, Inc., a nonprofit that serves refugees in Columbus, Toledo, and Cleveland. US Together, Inc. is a member of the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives Network.
“The governor has been very open to hearing our ideas about helping new Americans in the state. This has involved a lot of hard work from the Ohio coalition, as well as our national partners and technical assistance providers through the project. One very encouraging result is that Governor Kasich has signed an executive order to establish an Office of Opportunity for New Americans. He appointed a professional to lead it, and created an advisory council for it. We couldn’t have done this without all of these people working together.”
In addition the governor’s office created a website that lists state resources for new Americans and is conducting listening sessions in cities throughout Ohio to gather ideas about how best to bridge the gaps immigrants face when seeking to reenter their professions in the state.
“Being involved with the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program has provided everyone involved with a great opportunity to network with other groups, to learn what others are doing,” says Kasvin. “At the WES Toronto convening in June we were all able to share knowledge and build relationships. It was great to meet together in person. These relationships will go on.”
The participants in Toronto were also able to learn how Canada works to integrate immigrants into its workforce and society. “Seeing how it’s done in Canada was very inspiring to us,” Kasvin says. “We were able to sit down and ask questions. They’ve been through their own ups and downs. It was very helpful to learn from them.”
There are lessons she would share with other cities and states embarking on similar work.
“Making change requires patience,” she says. “Things are not going to happen in a month or a year. Any group should be prepared to invest time and effort into it. Not be discouraged by the pace of progress.” She recommends an attitude of flexibility, open communication with the people working on the cause to develop common ground, as well as having a Plan B and a Plan C. “This will allow you to be creative instead of being fixed on only one possible outcome. Take small advances as victories. You have to stay involved and energized.”
A national approach to integrating skilled immigrants would have great benefits for the United States, says Kasvin. “It would not only help new Americans reenter their careers and society, but it would also have a significant economic impact. When people start having better incomes, they are paying more in taxes; they spend more overall. They can afford to send their children to good colleges. All of that has a ripple effect on how soon they can move on to jobs beyond those survival jobs. It has a domino effect.”
There’s lots of work to be done. “As a country we need to support those organizations on a small scale, provide them with resources. Being successful shouldn’t depend on where immigrants land – New York, Chicago, Toledo – possibilities for success should be found everywhere in this country.”