Support for Refugee and Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley

Immigrants are nearly twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born U.S. citizens[1]. A community initiative in Silicon Valley is now engaging the immigrant and refugee entrepreneurial spirit through a program focused on supporting potential new business founders.

The Pars Equality Center created the Pars Entrepreneurship Program as a response to a forum that it held; where newly-arrived refugees were invited to hear the stories of successful Iranian-Americans. Participants began asking for more tools, mentors, and practical advice on starting businesses.

Just a couple of years after it started, the Pars Entrepreneurship Program has already become wildly popular, shared Ellie Derakhshesh-Clelland, the Senior Director of Social Services at the Pars Equality Center. Shortly after creating an Entrepreneurship Program page on Facebook, the page had more than 3,000 followers. “That by itself is an indication of what a huge need there is for a program like this,” said Ellie.

“We sat down and brainstormed with aspiring entrepreneurs for about three months to find out what their needs were,” said Ellie.

The outcome is that Pars Equality Center now hosts bi-weekly meetings featuring experts and business founders who lead roundtable discussions about particular entrepreneurship topics. Topics range from how to incorporate a company to sales planning and fundraising. The group is currently at capacity, with some 50 refugees and immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 3 – 7 years in regular attendance. In addition, a group of mentors is available for individual questions outside of the larger group meetings. Pars Equality Center staff have been successful in finding subject experts and mentors through their personal networks and LinkedIn searches.

Although the group is diverse in age and professional background, one commonality is that “they all have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Ellie. “They came to Silicon Valley with the hope of starting their own company.”

Twelve entrepreneurial initiatives, all tech-based, have blossomed since the program began. Participants practiced describing their business concepts at a recent Pitch Day event, where investors and advisors were invited to provide feedback. From there, eight participants were selected to take part in a meeting with a capital venture firm and three vendors. Ellie said that although investors expected young refugees and immigrants would need a lot of guidance, they were “in awe of their talent” and also learned new ideas from the entrepreneurs.

The Pars Equality Center is a community-based social and legal organization that focuses on integration of Iranian-Americans, immigrants and refugees.

Written by Carrie Thiele.


Volunteer Engagement

8 Ways Volunteers Can Support Refugee Employment 

hs-245-laura-1Guest post by Laura Griffin, Program Coordinator for Volunteerism at LIRS 

We all know the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. One way to stretch your ability to serve refugee clients is to make volunteer support a core part of your employment program. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with dozens of people from refugee employment programs around the country to ask: How do volunteers and interns support your work?

Here are 8 Ways to Leverage Volunteer Support for Refugee Employment:

1. One-on-One Job Readiness Support 

Volunteers can sit down with individual clients to practice for interviews, edit resumes, fill out job applications, and/or practice skills like how to use the computer to search for jobs.

2. Guest Speakers and Experts

Bring in volunteers as guest speakers from relevant fields (like IT) to talk with clients about the skills employers in their industry look for in job applicants.

3. Support for Highly Skilled Clients

Volunteers can provide individualized job readiness and placement assistance to highly skilled refugee clients.

4. Mentoringmentoring

Mentoring can focus on advanced job readiness training or industry-specific mentoring. If you are interested in designing a mentoring program to assist refugees with long-term career planning, see the free LIRS Guide for Employment Mentoring.

5. Assist with Job Development

Volunteers can help establish employer leads through community outreach, targeted calling and online searching. One participant shared that they have volunteers research job opportunities and send initial emails to potential employers to start the conversation.

6. Increase Access to Service

Volunteers can help enable clients to access employment services by providing rides or offering child care during job readiness classes.

7. Career Fairs 

Have volunteers take clients to career fairs and help them follow up with potential job leads

8. Case Support and Service Plans 

While it can seem a bit daunting, many participants shared success stories of having interns and star volunteers manage cases and design service plans.

How do you leverage volunteers and interns?  Leave a comment below or contact us if you use volunteers and interns to support your refugee employment programs.

Related: Additional Employment Volunteer Resources, New Collection of Employment Volunteer Resources

Informational Interviews

info interviewAn easy-to-understand explanation for you and your clients

Refugee job seekers need to develop networks in the U.S. Informational interviews are an accepted way to build contacts and learn more about their chosen industry here in the U.S.

It sounds good, but what does informational interview really mean and what are practical tips for doing it?

A U.S. news article includes this actual definition of an informational interview and some practical tips that are worth reading. They include how to prepare, what to ask, what NOT to ask and how to follow-up.

What is an informational interview? It refers to an informal conversation between two people, in which one person asks for advice on their career, an industry or a company. The end goal…is to have the person at the company refer them to their employer, but this should not be your expectation; this talk should be seen as an opportunity that could turn into bigger things.

Interactive Employment Resource Collection

This resource collection is long overdue. To access resources about any of the topics in the below graphic, simply click on the topic!

Please let us know if you have any youth resources to add so we can keep building the collection!

Webinar: Bridging the Skills Gap With International Talent



If you work with highly skilled refugees, you know how challenging it can be to help them find opportunities that utilize their professional skills and lead to a fulfilling career path.

Welcoming Economies Global Network, a project of Welcoming America in partnership with Global Detroit, is presenting a webinar tomorrow from 2:00 – 3:00 PM EST that will highlight the latest resources and strategies for making sure that immigrants’ and refugees’  skills don’t go to waste.

Here is the webinar description from the Welcoming America website:

Bridging the Skills Gap With International Talent

Retirement of baby boomers, low U.S. birth rates, and the shift toward the knowledge economy are leaving many regional economies without the highly-skilled workforce they need to grow and attract business. Modernizing the workforce system to best utilize the talents of all Americans includes considering the talents of immigrant labor — such as those considered highly skilled, holding a four-year college degree or higher. Better integration of international students and underemployed/unemployed immigrants living in the U.S. can address both local labor shortages and create opportunities for individual professionals’ upward mobility and empowerment.

In this webinar, you will gain a basic understanding of the skills gap issue and the opportunities international talent presents. You will learn how to access existing resources for highly-skilled immigrants and take away practical tips that can be implemented locally in the short-term.

Click here to register for this webinar.

6 Fundamentals to Help Highly Skilled Clients You Might Not Know About

Med Pro Group iStock_000022514360XSmallAlthough archives from a recent LINCS’ Working with Immigrant Professionals webinar are not yet available, Kelly Rice, Employment Program Manager at the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green heard some valuable new ideas and quickly did two things to follow-up.

She started a Skilled Immigrant and Refugee Resources Working Group on Linkedin that you are welcomed to join.  She also conbuted this blog post with her take on working with highly skilled refugees.  

A job developer’s job is never finished. We are always seeking the best opportunities for our clients, but sometimes they need to get a job quick – what do we do?

Usually, they are placed into an entry-level position until they can find that job upgrade. Many highly skilled or professionally licensed clients are placed in first jobs jobs for which they are over qualified. How do we make it easier for them to find a career path in the same field they pursued before being resettled in the U.S.?

Here are six fundamentals and the strategies I know work from research, webinars and my own experience:

  1. Integrate English language learning with other job readiness preparation
    • “Do they speak English” is the question I am asked most often by employers.
    • Advanced English classes with contextualized content (possibly online?).
    • Integrate English learning with test-taking strategies to assist participants’ career pursuits.
  2. Never underestimate the importance of social capital and social networking
    • Employers use social media, A LOT.
    • Mentorship program with career professionals.
    • Workshops and peer support groups.
    • Professional associations,,, Facebook, Twitter.
  3. Offer career coaching and mock interview preparation
    • Added benefits in professional understanding and increased confidence levels.
    • Mock interviews and feedback sessions (utilizing employer volunteers?).
    • Individual career coaching – use employment mentors who are career professionals.
  4. Utilize soft skills and language inventory
    • GED Programs, Small Business Entrepreneurship Programs or Economic Empowerment Programs are valuable resources.
    • Computer classes are usually available at libraries and career centers.
    • Public Libraries, Community Colleges, Private Language Institutes are key resources.
    • Networking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    • Resume vs CV, Cover Letter, References.
    • Professional Portfolio (showcase their work, projects, articles).
  5. Educate stakeholders about the value of immigrant credentials and the importance of credential evaluation
    • Enables educated immigrants and refugees to gain recognition of their credentials and access to opportunities.
    • Helps licensing boards, employers, academic institutions understand qualifications earned outside the U.S.
    • Larger employers and licensing boards usually have formal processes and/or have a preferred credential evaluation service. Know which one is required before spending any money.
    • Many employers are unfamiliar with credential evaluation or skeptical of foreign qualifications – help employers understand the process.
    • Refugees need to proactively “market” their evaluation and highlight their US equivalencies to overcome employer concerns.
  6. Help clients consider alternatives to re-licensure
    • Non-licensed teachers can work in as teachers in private schools, instructors at community colleges, adult education instructors, corporate trainers, etc. Teachers also have opportunities for alternate routes to certification, including fellowships that allow them to license while working.
    • Accountants without a CPA can work in many settings, e.g. bookkeeping, analyzing budgets and costs, etc.
    • Healthcare professionals can consider non-regulated occupations such as medical interpretation or positions in administration, research or community health.
    • Non-licensed engineers or architects can work in technical, advisory and management positions that can have an important impact on engineering projects.
    • Local Technical Colleges can team up to create Certification Programs as an alternative as well.

For example, our local Techical College started a free Certified Production Technician Program. After completing a 12 week course, graduates are guaranteed an interview at an employer in their desired field, which can lead to a significant job upgrade. This is a brand new program. Hopefully by April, we will have good news with some folks who found a great job!

Kelly RiceKelly Rice has a B.S in Finance from Virginia Tech and an HR certificate from Western Kentucky University.  She worked at Wells Fargo for 8 years and joined the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green as Employment Program Manager in May 2013

Free Webinar: Working with Immigrant Professionals

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 4.28.13 PMJoin the webinar TODAY, Tuesday, January 26, 2016 from 3 – 4:30 PM EST

Register here for  a free interactive webinar on acclimating immigrant professionals to the workplace. Offered by the LINCS Adult English Language Learners Group, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians will share their strategies for serving immigrant professionals.

You’ll learn about ideas, models and strategies to accelerate English language learning and develop workplace skills.

New Research Identifies Essential Steps for Skilled Immigrants’ Success

cover_steps_for_success_195x250Last December, we informed our readers that World Education Services (WES) and IMPRINT were conducting a survey of college-educated immigrants in 6 U.S. cities (Boston, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose and Seattle) and we encouraged you to invite clients to participate. The results are out in Steps to Success: Integrating Immigrant Professionals in the United States.

Based on more than 4,000 responses from college-educated immigrants in the U.S., the report identifies factors that correlate with their successful integration into American life and offers recommendations for communities to better integrate these skilled workers, and take advantage of their many talents.

To give you a brief preview, here are a few of the key findings of the report:

1. Social capital is powerful: The survey showed that there is a remarkably strong correlation between the size of an immigrant’s social network and his or her likelihood of success.

2. English really matters: Across the board, stronger English language skills were correlated with virtually every possible measure of immigrant success.

3. Immigrants take enterprising approaches: Numerous self-improvement strategies were reported, including academic credential evaluation, English language classes, and additional education in the United States.

Take advantage of this cutting edge information as you develop strategies to help highly skilled clients succeed!


When Serving Skilled Immigrants, You Don’t Need to Re-invent the Wheel!

Logo skilledMany refugee employment professionals dream about developing customized employment services for clients with higher levels of education and professional experience. Unfortunately, because of limited time and resources, these dreams are rarely realized.

Take heart, my friends! You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Momentum has been building on the issue of skilled immigrants for the past decade, and some great resources have been developed that you can use, adapt, or refer clients to directly.

Check out the organizations and initiatives below!

1.  Upwardly Global – Upwardly Global (UpGlo) provides customized training and support for skilled immigrants and connects them to employer partners interested in hiring global talent. In addition to it’s 5 brick and mortar locations (New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, and Silver Spring, MD) UpGlo offers online training programs for skilled immigrants who live elsewhere in the US.

For more information about UpGlo’s online training options, click here to register to attend a webinar they’re offering  just for us on July 28. 

2.  Imprint Project – The IMPRINT Project is a coalition of organizations active in the emerging field of immigrant professional integration. Imprint works closely with business, government, higher education and other partners to raise awareness about the talents and contributions of immigrant professionals. In addition to the services that member organizations provide, IMPRINT provides a wealth of resources on its’ website including publications, program resources, articles and op-eds and webinars.

3.  Global Talent Bridge – An initiative of World Education Services, Global Talent Bridge is dedicated to helping skilled immigrants fully utilize their talents and education in the United States. Global Talent Bridge’s services include support, training, and resources for community organizations, government agencies and employers; direct outreach to skilled immigrants, including seminars and comprehensive online resources; and policy advocacy at the local, state and national level. To get started, check out their Resources for Immigrants page.

4.  Welcome Back Initiative – The Welcome Back Initiative focuses on internationally trained health workers living in the United States. They do this primarily through their network of “Welcome Back Centers” which provide orientation, counseling and support to foreign-trained health workers. Welcome Back Centers currently exist in California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington state, Maryland, New York, Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

5.  Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) – In addition to the professional experience and education immigrants bring with them, many also pursue education here in the US. Classes at a community college are often the first step. CCCIE’s mission is to raise awareness of the important role community colleges play in delivering educational opportunities to immigrants and to promote and expand the range and quality of programs and services for immigrant students among community colleges around the country. For an orientation to this organization and what they do, check out their presentation Immigrant Students and Workforce Development.

In addition to the great resources listed above, don’t forget about mainstream workforce development programs/resources in your region that may provide the extra boost that a skilled immigrant needs to break into a professional job. Use the search feature on Higher’s website to find useful information about WIOA opportunities and more resources to support skilled immigrants.

DWilkinson HeadshotDaniel Wilkinson is a Philadelphia-based job developer with nearly 5 years experience serving refugee communities. He has worked for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey in Trenton, NJ and Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA.

Practical Tips on How to Network

Pro JobWe all know “networking” is a fundamental for success in the U.S. job market. Most of us don’t know how to explain how to do it, though.

Becoming an effective networker takes practice over time. Our clients have to start to work before many of them can develop the networking skills required to get the type of job they expect. This is especially true for clients with stronger English, professional credentials or a highly marketable work history.

Click here to read an article that finally helped me identify some specific and concrete things clients can practice to start learning how to network.

How to Relate Networking to Fundamental Client Cultural Values

Networking is based on U.S. cultural assumptions that go against what many of our client cultures hold true about appropriate professional behavior.

Many of the best practical tips in the article relate to making other people feel comfortable in networking situations rather than bragging or focusing only on yourself. Networking is about connecting to other people in meaningful ways. Sure, you’re trying to find a job, but you don’t network alone.

Many of our client cultures value showing respect, helping others “save face” or avoid embarrassment. Helping clients see networking in this context is an important first step.

Here are 5 practical tips from the article that focus on helping others.

  1. Make the Other People Feel Comfortable. Greet them. Smile. Shake hands. Introduce yourself. (This sounds familiar, right?)
  2. Ask Questions You Prepared in Advance. People like to feel like they have something to say that is interesting to others. This helps you learn, but also makes it easy for others to network, too.
  3. Be a connector. Don’t just look for people who can help you. Make useful introductions between people you meet. People will remember that you helped them and be more likely to help you in return.
  4. Listen actively. Pay attention to what people are saying. Don’t just ask a question and immediately start watching for the next person to network. You won’t learn anything helpful and people will notice and feel offended.
  5. Follow up within 3 days. Take notes about who you met, ideas you heard and new things to do. Follow-up with an email, thank you note or phone call quickly before people forget. Try to offer something new to them, as well.
How to Use This In Your Work
  1. Give this article to highly skilled clients as a homework assignment to read on their own.
  2. Consider assigning a volunteer or mentor to discuss the article and help clients practice some of the ideas.
  3. Look for a job fair or other group networking event that clients can prepare to attend using the tips in this article.

Clients aren’t the only ones facing time pressure to find their first job.  We need to provide a lot of assistance to a lot of clients in a short time frame.  How are you helping highly skilled clients master the networking skills they need to get – and succeed – in the best starter job for them?  Let us know at