How to Rebuild your Career in the United States as a Skilled Immigrant

 

A lot of skilled Africans authorized to work in the US are stuck in survival jobs, although the United States is a land of opportunities and a place where dreams come through. Africans are not exempted from the many that have migrated in hopes of a better life. Refugees moved to the USA, fleeing wars, persecution, violence or natural disasters in their home country. Graduate or experienced skilled workers move to the United States, some because they won the Green Card lottery and want to provide a better future for their offspring, other because of family reunification. Overall, they believe that the prospect for a better life is higher in the USA than it is in their home country. Refugees and Green Card holder are authorized to work in the United States without any employer’s sponsorship. Once in the United States, the skilled African Immigrant faces a brutal reality and can become quickly disillusioned.

 

In hopes of rebuilding their careers in the US, skilled African immigrants go through a lot of hurdles which are defining moments in their life. How challenging it is for skilled Africans to rebuild their career and integrate into the American workforce? What are the obstacles faced? How do skilled African workers cope with these barriers to employment and all the frustration these barriers create? And most importantly how do African immigrants overcome these challenges? Let’s analyze this important issue to keep the American dream alive.

 

African Immigrants in the US are mostly educated

Many Africans in the US are very skilled and qualified in different professions. Given their qualifications, they are entitled to middle-class jobs that offer a decent remuneration. Research shows that education is vital to the US hiring process as a person’s educational qualification is mostly considered before he or she is employed. Statistics also indicate that compare to other community of immigrants, Africans are well off in the US, with qualifications as high as a bachelor’s degree. The total percentage of African immigrants in the US with a bachelor’s degree is approximately 41%, with immigrants from Egypt (64%) and Nigeria (61%) been the top achiever’s; Note that the percentage of foreign born US citizens with a graduate degrees is just 28% of the entire population.

 

Survival jobs: An obstacle to reinsertion

The numbers show that academically, Africans are qualified for white-collar jobs; but the reality is different and many Africans with graduate degrees end up holding survival jobs, which are beneath their qualification. And the longer they stay in these survival jobs, the more challenging it is to reintegrate the workforce with a job commensurate their qualifications. Time is indeed a critical factor that could kill the dream of landing a professional job. In addition, applying for a job is a demanding and time consuming process, which is not always compatible with a survival job that is in many cases a distraction. A survival job is not also always compatible with the need to keep his or her skills up to date if the job seeker wants to remain marketable.

To make ends meet, skilled African expats have no other option than to take any temporary job that comes their way. They are called survival jobs because they basically help in meeting the daily needs of a person; food, healthcare, clothing and  shelter. Despite all of their effort and with qualifications as high as a Master’s Degree, many skilled African could still not get above the barriers restricting Africans in the US from getting qualified jobs. As a result, they get stuck for years in these unrewarding and unfulfilling jobs, with their dreams slowly fading and dying away. This is a very challenging, discouraging, and frustrating time for many African immigrants and some of them end up giving up hope and their dream job. Other may even regret the high paying job and comfortable professional situation they sacrificed back home to pursue an illusory dream in a promise land…or an unknown land should we say.

 

Discrimination and lack of US experience

Due to the challenges faced by Africans in the US which include racial discrimination, little or no knowledge about the hiring process in the US, and no recognition of qualification and skills of the African educational system, Opportunities are almost out of reach to skilled Africans living in the US. The hiring process in the US favors more those who received an education from the US rather than those who had their education abroad. This has been a major barrier for skilled Africans in the US as illustrated by the case of Mr. Olawale. Mr. Olawale is an Electrical Engineer from Nigeria. He previously worked in the Oil and Gas industry before arriving in New York City. Because of a lack of US experience and a lack of job opportunities in the Oil and Gas field in New York City, Mr. Olawale had to take a baggage handler job at the airport where he earned only $10 an hour. This is the fate of so many skilled and qualified Africans in the US. Many have to work 2 jobs just to keep up with the daily cost of living and all the expenses of a consumption society.

Skilled African workers also face racial discrimination in the US. Yes, the United States is tagged a free world country, but racial discrimination against Africans or other people of color still stands, thereby limiting Africans in securing their dream job. Discrimination is still one of the greatest challenges faced by Africans in the Diaspora in this 21st century.

 

Success stories

While many face numerous barriers in getting their dream career job, some are eventually successful. This is the case of Daniel Ajema, born and raised in Ethiopia who now owns and runs a successful law practice in Seattle. However, Daniel’s story tells the many challenges he had to battle, just like many other African immigrants in the US.

It takes years of struggle and in most cases going back to school and earning a US accredited degree to be able to secure a stable job.  Daniel Ajema eventually broke even by finishing and acquiring a US degree which helped him secure a qualified job in a law firm, and later on, open his own law practice.

Entrepreneurship is also an alternative for skilled immigrants, including Africans. if the system cannot they give them a job which is a basic human right, then why not create their own job? Thousand of skilled Africans have opened hair salons, restaurants, import-export businesses, franchises, tax preparation or event planning services. America is a free market society that encourages and makes entrepreneurship easy. Small and medium businesses are indeed the backbone of the American economy.

Other African immigrants who have been able to secure their dream jobs, did it through communities or organizations that help skilled immigrants integrate into the US workforce. Upwardly Global, one of these organizations supporting skilled immigrants helped Mr. Tayou find a job after attending a career summit in Chicago, just after relocating in the US from his native Cameroon where he was an IT Engineer. These non-profit organizations provide career advice services, resume writing and mock interview workshops, coaching and mentoring, as well as connections with potential employers. These non-profit also work with US companies that promote diversity and more inclusive hiring practices. Using these services, some African immigrants in the US have scaled through and beaten the survival job status the US hiring process placed them into.

 

Solutions to securing a stable job

Facing employment barriers can leave immigrants with unclear pictures of their professional identities. What can someone do to get around these barriers while rebuilding identity, confidence, and hope? Many Africans who were able to get through this barrier attributes it to some factors and steps they took; some of those steps include:

  • Finding a group to connect, share experiences and build a support network to motivate and encourage one another.
  • Creating an actions plan with deadlines to break down into manageable steps such an overwhelming task. Divide and conquer is the rule.
  • Finding a network of local professionals or a professional organization to keep up with the changes in their field.
  • Volunteering to gain US experience.

 

Job Search to the US standard

One of the ways to get a job in your career niche in the US is to present yourself in a proper way when given the opportunity to. The American structure has a system already in place that employers look out for when intending to employ a person.

Many immigrant or new comers in the United States who are not properly accustomed to this structure find it difficult to adapt and get a job in his or her career niche. One important aspect of this structure is preparing your resume according to the American standard. Understanding that the culture and the dynamic of the American job market could be very different than the ones of your country of origin is a crucial aspect of restarting a career in the United States.

Dividing the job search into smaller steps with clear goals for each step, makes it easier to land your dream job. For example the goal of resume writing is not to land a job, but to get an interview.

The skilled African job seeker should also demonstrate a lot of creativity in his or her job search to be able to stand out from the crowd. Writing thank you notes after interviews, following up regularly, going door-to-door to apply for jobs, attending job market fairs, registering at local government job agencies, are many ways to think outside of the box and boost significantly a job search

Some practical tips of the resume writing the US standards way include:

  • Making sure you indicate your work status to prevent employers from assuming you are seeking visa sponsorship.
  • Including accomplishments, as American employers are results driven.
  • Providing details about the size of the companies you worked with in your home country, as well as some eventual partnerships with US companies: American employers are US-centered and don’t know foreign companies very well. Giving them some points of reference will boost your resume.
  • Survival jobs should go after your professional work.
  • Including scholarships, thesis Projects, honors/awards, volunteer experience, technical skills, affiliations with professional associations.

 

Volunteering to gain US experience

Although not common or known to many, volunteering is one way to gain experience in the US and at the same time do some good in your community. It can be a way for you to update your skills, expand your network and possibly get a job. And there are all sorts of nonprofits to choose from either community service groups, political organizations or religious institutions. Here are some of the benefits of volunteering:

  • You’ll learn new skills.
  • You’ll be exposed to a new field. If you want to switch careers, volunteering is a great way to test the waters to see if it’s really for you. You might get confirmation that you want to make the switch, or you might learn that it’s not what you thought it would be.
  • If you want to work for a specific nonprofit, then volunteering there is a great way to get a foot in the door. You’ll get to meet inside players, form relationships, and get early leads on upcoming openings. And you’ll also be able to demonstrate that you’re reliable, talented, organized, efficient, skilled, and all the other traits people look for in new hires.
  • By volunteering, you’ll become a known quantity to an entirely new pool of people. You’ll now have a whole new group in your network who knows from direct experience with you that you are reliable, competent, and sane. These traits are not to be underestimated on the job market. These people will then be able to vouch for you to others in their own networks.

And that’s the crucial part, because employers are more likely to employ a known person more than a more qualified stranger.

 

Networking for your Job Search

Networking is what Americans call the process of building a network of colleagues and contacts (who can often be strangers). Networking involves meeting and getting to know professionals in your field, providing them with resources, and asking them to help you with resources, information and career advice.

Most people find good jobs through their professional and social networks, not through postings on websites or ads in the newspaper. When you know people in your field, they can often let you know about jobs that are available, or jobs that are going to be available. Your network will also introduce you to people who are hiring. When you get an introduction from a colleague, what is considered to be a “referral”, you stand out as a better candidate than someone who does not get a personal introduction. Once you have a job, your network keeps you informed about the latest developments and issues in your field. Your network keeps you learning and growing in your career. In the US, some people even get hired and paid a lot of money just because they have a large network. People like to know people who are ‘well-connected’ because they have a reputation for being able to get things done quickly.

Think of everyone you meet as a potential resource. You never know whom people know. Talk to everyone in your social circles, including friends and family, about your job search. Often you meet professional contacts through social contacts and connections.

 

Associations Helping Immigrants

 Some associations are committed to helping immigrants settle in and do all the needful to grow and work to pursue their dream and some of these associations includes: –

  • Upward Global
  • Welcome back initiative (for health workers)
  • us
  • World Education Services (www.wes.org)
  • Refuge transitions (reftrans.org)
  • Rebuilding center (www.rebuildingcenter.org)

As well as social help groups available in the United States.

 

Useful Websites for resume Template

  • http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates
  • www.resume-resource.com
  • www.jobbankusa.com

 

Additional Resources for Licensing and Credentialing

Doctors

Foundation for the Advancement of International Medical Education and Research: www.faimer.org International Medical Education Directory: imed.ecfmg.org/search.asp
United States Medical Examination Licensing: www.usmle.org
Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates: www.ecfmg.org

Registered Nurses

Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools: www.cqfns.org
National Council of State Boards of Nursing: www.ncsbn.org
NCLEX-RN Study Materials: http://www.nclex-rn.net/

Engineers

Center for Professional Engineering Education Services: www.cpees.org
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying: www.ncees.org
Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology: www.abet.org

Sources: U.S.News, www.monster.com, World Education Services

 

Afrikagora Magazine

 

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