IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

New Navigator Programs Help Foreign-Trained Immigrants Overcome Barriers to Employment

A growing number of states and community colleges across the country have taken new measures to help foreign-trained immigrants and refugees qualify for and find professional level work in the United States. California, Michigan, and New York as well as Arizona’s Pima Community College, and Miami Dade College in Florida are all helping foreign-born workers overcome language and other employment barriers through new “navigator” programs.

California dedicated $2.5 million to ensure immigrants and English language learners receive career services and support. In Michigan, $540,000 was awarded to support a refugee navigator pilot program designed to help refugees rejoin their professions by offering a variety of relevant services. New York has recently announced $1 million in funding for 14 navigators to work with low-income immigrant communities across the state.

California Workforce Navigator

In May 2017, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the California Workforce Development Board awarded $2.5 million to local workforce boards to support “Workforce Navigator” programs over an 18-month period. Implementation of the programs is coordinated by a statewide effort involving the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, California Workforce Development Board, Employment Development Department, California Department of Education, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. ALLIES, a coalition of adult education providers, community colleges, and community-based organizations in Silicon Valley, was selected as the technical assistance provider and evaluator for grantees of the pilot program.

Although the navigator program is not exclusively focused on skilled or foreign-educated immigrants, the program will likely have a major impact on their needs. The navigator role is intended to serve as a career coach and case manager. Navigators will ensure that participants are on an education or job training track, and give them the support and resources to overcome barriers such as child care, transportation, housing and health care. The program also seeks to better align adult education and employment training programs by promoting collaboration among service providers.

The Orange County Development Board, Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Board, Sacramento Employment and Training Agency, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and Madera County Workforce Investment Corporation each received $500,000 in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I Governor’s discretionary funds to begin the pilot navigator programs.

Michigan Refugee Navigator

In June 2017, Michigan launched a pilot program for refugees being served by Michigan’s One Stop workforce system. The navigator program provides career and training services at four Michigan Works! (American Job Centers) in Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Kent Counties and is supported by Michigan’s Talent Investment Agency, in partnership with The Michigan Office for New Americans (MONA). The pilot, which is funded by the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, seeks to assist work-authorized immigrants with integration into Michigan’s economy despite language and other barriers to employment.

Under the leadership of MONA, navigators conduct community outreach and connect foreign-trained workers to state-funded and community partner resources. In addition, navigators provide referrals to a variety of services including ESL training, housing, healthcare, childcare, transportation, GED programs, public assistance, training and employment, and licensing and credentialing assistance. The program requires the One-Stop Service Centers who receive funding to submit a plan outlining the types of career services and training offered, as well as the number of immigrants the funding will serve. Each of the four navigators must undergo training before working with refugees.

New York Community Navigators

New York’s new navigator program is designed to increase access to information about available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout the state. It was born out of a realization by the Department of State (DOS) that there was a severe lack of information concerning workforce development services and resources in low-income immigrant communities across New York. To address this need, DOS, on behalf of the Office for New Americans (ONA), announced approximately $1 million to support placement of a full-time community navigator in fourteen community-based organizations across the state. The program focuses broadly on the needs of all of New York’s low-income immigrant communities regardless of prior skills or training. It is a federally funded program focused on the provision of services for low-income residents (under 125 percent of the poverty line) including immigrants and the assessment of needs in their communities.

The navigators will enhance awareness of available resources and services to the low-income immigrant community in their area of service. They will lead monthly roundtables focused on promoting immigrant integration within the state. Roundtables will include representatives from local government, community-based organizations, immigrant communities, local businesses, chambers of commerce, farm workers, farm owners, refugee resettlement agencies, and immigrant service providers. The funds will also support a number of community forums on employment and workforce related topics. Under the program, navigators must conduct a survey of local immigrant community members to identify the major economic and workforce issues they face and provide a report based on their findings to ONA. The program also supports outreach and training for community members to become volunteer navigators.

Grants of $75,500 will be made to navigators at each selected organization. The year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds. For more information on the program and its operational structure, please reach out to Laura Gonzalez-Murphy, ONA Director and/or Kyle Athayde, Navigator Program Manager.

Pima Community College Immigrant College and Career Navigator

Pima Community College began offering a free, non-credit program known as Transition to Jobs in 2013. The program provides support for immigrant and refugee residents of Tucson and Pima County in need of assistance transitioning to college-level education and job training programs. The classes cover three main components: workforce systems navigation, career and skill development, and gaining work experience through volunteering. The program aims to assist immigrants and refugees secure jobs in their fields by helping them to navigate U.S. workforce systems and use their credentials in the U.S. A team of volunteers serves as career coaches and mentors and an Immigrant College and Career Navigator is provided by the college. The navigator’s role is to help English-language learners develop college and career readiness skills and provide referrals to career support services.

The program includes a free 10-week, non-credit class for highly skilled immigrants and refugees who have more advanced English skills and a certificate or college degree from another country. The classes offer group and individualized coaching sessions, mock job interviews, information on online job resources, tips regarding leveraging professional associations and networking opportunities in the community, and help with foreign credential evaluation. Classes meet once per week and consist of 10 to 12 students and three volunteer coaches. The small class sizes allow students to receive individualized feedback in real time. Pima plans to offer evening classes to increase access for students who work during the day.

Transition to Jobs is supported partly through county-designated funds (less than $20,000 annually) and a private donor. WIOA funds pay for the college’s Immigrant Navigator position. Pima funds a Volunteer Coordinator’s time.

Mami Dade College Navigator Program

In response to a clear need in the community among foreign-trained professionals who lacked the necessary information to rejoin their professions, Miami Dade College took the initiative to identify ways to better serve their foreign-trained student population. They created an office to identify how the college curriculum can assist its foreign-trained students, including identifying which courses can help them meet their career goals.

The purpose behind the program is to assist people with professional credentials from other countries to get back to work in jobs in their fields and help them obtain licensure where applicable. The program officially launched in January 2018.

The services offered to students include a compilation of existing services at the college, including translation and credential evaluation, help identifying necessary English classes, and assistance with licensure and re-credentialing. There are only two requirements for the program: students must be admitted to Miami Dade College and have a degree from another country. The College will track data to evaluate the program, including participants’ national origin, length of time it took to transition into their desired fields, as well as the number of participants who rejoined the same industry or sector but in a new capacity.

As foreign-trained immigrants and refugees settle into new communities in the U.S., the evidence is clear that they face barriers entering the local workforce. These innovative navigator programs offer great promise to highly-skilled, low-income immigrant and refugee community members as they seek to reenter their professions.

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