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Looking for Work after September 11 - 2002-09-11

English Feature #7-35555 Broadcast November 11, 2001

Among the many consequences of the September 11th terrorist attacks was a sharp decrease in travel and tourism in the United States, which in turn has limited job options for immigrants. Today on New American Voices some recent immigrants, and the people who try to help them, talk about how they're coping with the situation.

The "job fair" drew about 30 immigrants and refugees from various countries to the nondescript one-story building on the outskirts of Washington. This opportunity for job seekers to meet potential employers was organized by Zenia Sirage, a case-worker and job developer for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, one of ten non-governmental agencies responsible for resettling refugees in the United States.

"My clients are basically from all walks of life, from all over the world, anybody, asylees, refugees. These are people who have lost their jobs since September 11th, most of them. The others, they never started a job, but they haven't been able to find jobs since then."

Since there are virtually no opportunities for employment in hotels and restaurants at the moment, Ms. Sirage invited a representative of the Goodwill Industries, an organization that also often hires immigrants, to the job fair to talk to prospective applicants. James Chatman explains that Goodwill runs retail shops that sell donated household goods, clothing, electric appliances, and the like, and uses the proceeds for a variety of programs to help low-income communities. Many of the positions at the shops are behind-the-scenes--receiving donations, cleaning donated items, stocking the shelves--and require little English. Mr. Chatman says that at any given time, about 75 percent of the employees in Goodwill's retail stores are immigrants. They often stay on the job for only a year or two.

"They kind of use it to springboard themselves into the job market. And that's exactly what we're geared towards. It gives them an opportunity to build some employment history, and they get experience, and once they look for the next job they can say Okay, I worked for Goodwill, and you know, we give them the references that they need to move on."

Among the people attending the job fair are Iraqis, Kurds, Somalis, Ethiopians, Sierra Leoneans and Sudanese. Three men, sitting together at a table filling out job applications, are from Iran. They first met when they arrived in the United States five months ago. Firouz Muhammedi, a tall, intense young man dressed in a white turtleneck sweater and jeans, has learned some English since coming to the Washington area. He has a job in the kitchen of one of the local hotels, but he says the money he earns is not enough to cover even basic expenses.

"I'm looking for a job. Anything. You know what is my thing. I'm actually a cook. I'm working right now in the hotel Marriott, but it's not enough. Because in this country if you get an apartment you have to pay, and if you have one job is not enough, because you cannot pay. Or you cannot deposit [save]. So I'm looking right now for a second job, for part time. It's very hard, very hard, very hard."

Albert - who would not give his last name - is a refugee from Iran by way of Bosnia, Italy and Austria. Like Firouz Muhammedi, Albert says he has to work two jobs to make ends meet.

"After four days I came here, I go to work. After one month I find my second job, I working in two jobs, one full time, one part time. I was sandwich maker in Bread-and-Chocolate bakery. My other job in Marriott hotel, there I working in the pantry, in the kitchen. I serve food for people, after that I was everything, cleaning, finish. After three months I buy a car, ninety-four Nissan Centra."

Last month Albert was laid off from his job in the bakery-restaurant, and now he is looking for any job he can find. Back in Teheran he was a mechanic, and eventually, that is what he would like to do.

"I like my job, I like mechanic, but I need learn more. My English is not good. I learn here English, before I can't speak nothing. But now I go to school, I can, like, understand a little. Now I like every job, you know, I can do anything. For my life I need job, I need money."

Because he has a car and can drive to work, Albert has a good chance of landing a job at a Goodwill Industries shop 20 miles outside Washington. Although he has been here only five months, he is making plans for the future.

"I have girlfriend in my country, I want she comes here, married together, living together. Live here, learn English, go to college, that's it. I want just that. I think maybe in this country, I can do it."

Another of the job seekers at the job fair is a nurse, a refugee from Sierra Leone, who has been here ten months and is still unemployed. Her story next week on New American Voices.