Engaging Immigrant Talent: Learning From a Shared Dialogue

Our world is collectively experiencing a pandemic as well as social and political upheavals, both globally and locally. This directly impacts our workplaces and requires us to reimagine how to operate, particularly as we become more digitally connected. Including immigrant talent adds a diverse perspective to our workforce, provided they have the tools to succeed in their workplace. Immigrant talent can more fully contribute to an organization when their employer has implemented tangible strategies to foster inclusivity, positivity, and humanity within their organization. To promote inclusive growth through immigrant integration, we have developed the Engaging Immigrant Talent initiative.  

Through Engaging Immigrant Talent, we will provide tools for employers to implement inclusive hiring practices and develop strategies in the workplace to facilitate immigrant success. Above all, we create opportunities for a shared dialogue among immigrant talent, employers, and service providers to exchange knowledge and experience for successful immigrant integration in the workforce. 

To learn more about the current strategies in Philadelphia that promote immigrant integration, in collaboration with the Junkin Group, we conducted a series of interviews in spring 2020. We spoke to a variety of organizations about their knowledge and experience pertaining to immigrant workforce integration. Through these interviews, we identified three groups who are key to successfully integrating immigrants into the workforce: employers, service providers, and immigrants themselves. All three are interconnected, yet each group brings a variety of expertise and knowledge they can share to promote inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration. We found that, when each group is intentionally engaged to share their knowledge and expertise, immigrant integration into the workforce is successful. 

Based on the responses of participants from each group, we identified nine clustered themes. Understanding these themes, or takeaways, allows employers, service providers, and immigrants to learn from the expertise and knowledge of other participants to develop strategies for successful immigrant integration. Here are the nine takeaways: 


1. Among each group, there are differences in perceived barriers to successful integration.

Employers see barriers that typically include concerns about immigrant language ability, social and political contexts impacting the ability to hire immigrants, and concern about their organization’s ability to sponsor a VISA for immigrant talent. Service providers report that immigrants’ perceived barriers to their own inclusion are their English language abilities, navigating United States workplace and HR culture, and feeling as though they are held to a different standard than non-immigrant workers. Moreover, service providers have heard perceived barriers as immigrants misunderstanding employer expectations, encountering difficulty building coworker relationships, and underestimating their value and skills. 


2. Shared understanding is key. 

Interview participants also reported misunderstandings between employers and immigrant employees about what specific terms mean within the workplace. Across all interviews, we found seven definitions of the term “immigrant” alone. To promote immigrant integration in the workplace, employers and immigrant employees must have a shared understanding of the meaning of terms. 


3. Need ideas to support immigrant integration? Look to service providers. 

Service providers have suggestions for immigrants to support their integration into the U.S. workforce. Based on their experience serving immigrants, they reported that immigrants who successfully integrate into the workplace have supportive, quality co-worker relationships; feel they can adequately communicate with HR and their boss; have external networkers of support; understand how to use professional networking to further career development; and believe their home culture work experiences are valuable in the U.S. workforce. 


4. Everyone has a role in supporting cultural competence. 

Employers who fail to actively implement cultural competence fail to integrate immigrants into their workforce. However, cultural competence is not just for employers. Immigrants can struggle to integrate into the U.S. workforce if they do not embrace cultural adaptation. Fortunately, service providers can address these issues by bridging the gap between employers and immigrants. 


5. Employers succeed with a defined understanding of diversity and inclusion. 

Through our interview sessions, we found that employers who possessed a defined understanding of diversity and inclusion appear to lead in successful integration and cultural competence. Those without a working understanding of these terms may exclude immigrants from the workforce. Employers who possess a working definition of “diversity” and “inclusion,” at the very least, seem to successfully integrate immigrants into the workforce. Often, non-immigrant employees need assistance in integrating as well. Recognizing the multifaceted nature of integration, employers are intentional in supporting non-immigrant and immigrant employees to successfully integrate into the workforce. 


6. Cultural competence among coworkers can address workplace discrimination. 

Our findings suggest that the cultural competence of coworkers appears to provide solutions to perceived discrimination in the workplace. According to the service providers we interviewed, immigrants have identified their co-workers as a major contribution to their successful workforce integration. 


7. Immigrant integration is multilayered. 

Immigrant integration does not stop at simply onboarding an immigrant into the workplace, according to employers who have successfully integrated immigrant employees. For them, integration means understanding what their immigrant employees need to navigate their community, personally and professionally. According to employers, this could mean finding a home or learning about personal banking. 


8. COVID-19 recovery plans may impact current thinking around immigrant integration. 

As organizations consider how to continue or begin the process of immigrant integration, they will need to take the COVID-19 pandemic into account. Most businesses are working remotely and remain concerned about the safety of their employees in returning to work. Unfortunately, many businesses have been forced to reduce their staff due to the pandemic. There are many unknowns, however, being mindful of the impact of COVID-19 and immigrant integration will help organizations develop a plan to meaningfully integration plan. 


9. The Black Lives Matter movement will change diversity and inclusion efforts for the better.

At the Welcoming Center, we believe diversity and inclusion are fundamental tools in the fight for equity and justice. More broadly, organizations recognize that the Black Lives Matter movement will positively impact the way they understand, discuss, and incorporate diversity and inclusion into their HR plan for immigrant and non-immigrant employees. You can read the Welcoming Center’s blog post on the importance of inclusive, proactive talent strategies for equitable economic recovery here 


Although we interviewed a wide range of employers, service providers, and immigrants, we found they were united in their commitment to inclusiveness and integration. When all three groups are engaged to contribute their expertise, they can promote successful immigrant integration in the workforce through positivity, inclusiveness, and humanity. 

Given the information learned from spring 2020, we are engaging employers, service providers and immigrants in identifying and implementing best practices for workplace integration. These round table discussions began in October 2020 and will continue through January 2021. The round table discussions focus on articulating shared definitions for terms, imagining how to implement inclusive practices, exploring how accountability, responsibility and opportunity support integration, and identifying best practices.  Our goal is to identify areas of reciprocal support through which immigrant talent, employers, and service providers can fully benefit from a partnership to successfully integrate immigrants into the workforce.   


If you want to join the Welcoming Center’s efforts to promote successful immigrant integration in the workforce, here are three ways to get involved: 


1. Join the conversation. 

The Welcoming Center is holding round table discussions (December 4th-11thwhere you can join your peers at the table and discuss inclusive best practices in order to construct an equitable path toward economic recovery. To receive registration details, please contact Rochelle at rochelle@welcomingcenter.org. 


2. Hire diverse talent.

Inclusive economic recovery starts with a diverse workforce. Currently, the Welcoming Center’s International Professionals Program (IPP) has eleven immigrant job seekers. We invite you to network with our newest IPP cohort at our upcoming network event on December 8th at 5:30p. To register, click here. 


3. Become a fellowship worksite.

Preview international immigrant talent through subsidized on-the-job training. You can learn more about this opportunity by exploring the Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Fellowship Program. 

This piece is the first in our Engaging Immigrant Talent blog series. Want to stay in touch and get more involved with the Welcoming Center or the Engaging Immigrant Talent initiative? Please contact Rochelle T. Cooks, Director of Employer Engagement at (215) 825-7767 or rochelle@welcomingcenter.org. 

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