WBEZ | foreign workers http://www.wbez.org/tags/foreign-workers Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en More US-bound refugees? Labor-starved Vermont businesses welcome Obama’s call. http://www.wbez.org/news/more-us-bound-refugees-labor-starved-vermont-businesses-welcome-obama%E2%80%99s-call-113156 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Refugee workers at the Koffee Kup Bakery in Burlington, Vermont.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://cdn1.pri.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_main/public/story/images/IMG_3770.JPG?itok=2oFCaun-" style="border: 0px; vertical-align: bottom; max-width: 100%; height: 338px; color: rgb(51, 51, 60); font-family: 'Source Sans Pro', 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, 'Nimbus Sans L', sans-serif; font-size: 18px; line-height: 27px; width: 600px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);" title="Refugee workers at the Koffee Kup Bakery in Burlington, Vermont package up donuts. The human resources manager there says refugees have been instrumental to the company's growth. (PRI/Jason Margolis)" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>People in Vermont waking up with their morning coffee and donut&nbsp;have come to expect a certain consistency from their crullers, glazed, and maple donuts. The&nbsp;<a href="http://koffeekupbakery.com/" target="_blank">Koffee Kup Bakery</a>&nbsp;has been operating in Burlington&nbsp;for 75 years. Today, the company&nbsp;produces 480,000 donuts a day at its bakery. Most of the&nbsp;people responsible for baking and packaging all those donuts are refugees, largely&nbsp;from Bhutan and Nepal.&nbsp;</p><p>Making donuts&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;seasonal pumpkin ones this time of year &mdash;&nbsp;is repetitive, tedious work.&nbsp;Once they&rsquo;re cool, donuts stream down a conveyer belt where workers quickly pluck off six and box them up.&nbsp;Starting pay here is $14 an hour, plus benefits, which is at the high end for lower-skilled workers.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Without the refugee&nbsp;workforce, we would not have been able to succeed at the level we&rsquo;ve been able to succeed,&rdquo; says human resources manager Judy Schraven.</p><p>She says her refugee employees have been instrumental in growing the company&rsquo;s revenues 30 percent annually for the past three years. She says if she posts an ad looking for employees, people don&rsquo;t answer.</p><p>&ldquo;It is actually almost impossible to find non-refugee workers that are willing to work in the manufacturing environments.&rdquo;</p><p>The Obama Administration recently announced<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/europe/us-to-increase-admission-of-refugees-to-100000-in-2017-kerry-says.html?emc=edit_th_20150921&amp;nl=todaysheadlines&amp;nlid=28747981&amp;_r=1%20# of refugees: UN -- http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48e5f6.html" target="_blank">&nbsp;its plan to increase the number of refugees</a>&nbsp;accepted in the US from 70,000 to 100,000 annually, by the year 2017. This is foremost a humanitarian gesture, but, as the Koffee Kup knows,&nbsp;admitting more refugees can also be a boon for businesses and local economies, particularly in more rural area with labor shortages.</p><p>Vermont has an older, declining population and the state has the 4th&nbsp;lowest unemployment rate in the country&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm" target="_blank">at 3.6 percent</a>. So, many local companies are tapping into the refugee labor pool. To do that, they turn to Eric Duffy, an employment counselor with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The demand is much higher than we can supply at this time. Almost on a daily basis we&rsquo;re getting phone calls from new people trying to work with us,&rdquo; says Duffy.</p><div><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://cdn1.pri.org/sites/default/files/styles/original_image/public/IMG_3760.JPG?itok=ulDxWI3c" style="height: 255px; width: 340px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Refugee workers bake bread at the Koffee Kup Bakery in Burlington, VT. (PRI/Jason Margolis)" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><div><p>Some refugee arrivals in the US are placed in Vermont. Others choose the Burlington area to follow family. Within a few days of arriving, they meet with Duffy.</p></div></div><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll sit down and talk to them about what they did in the past, the capability of working now in America, what they want to do, and we kind of form a very basic understanding of: Can this person work now? What job would they want? And so on and so forth.&rdquo;</p><p>Besides jobs, refugees need help finding housing and healthcare. Families need schools.&nbsp;And there are plenty of cultural adjustments. One employer told me that some refugees don&rsquo;t understand why Americans are so rigid about being on time.&nbsp; Translation: Her employees are late. (She&nbsp;added, everything gets done.)&nbsp;And then there&rsquo;s the language barrier.</p><p>I attended a level two evening English class in Burlington taught by Sherry Star. Besides vocabulary challenges, refugees are learning to understand how Americans speak.</p><p>&ldquo;In the United States, our t&rsquo;s become d&rsquo;s.&nbsp;They (Americans)&nbsp;won&rsquo;t say &lsquo;better,&rsquo; they will say &lsquo;bedder.&rsquo; So you have to listen for those t&rsquo;s,&rdquo; Star explains to the somewhat bewildered group.</p><p>Those classes are provided for free through the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Well, free for the students. The organization&rsquo;s parent, the nonprofit<a href="http://www.refugees.org/?referrer=http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/voluntary-agencies" target="_blank">&nbsp;US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants</a>, receives&nbsp;<a href="http://budget:%20http//www.refugees.org/assets/documents/uscri-annual-report-2014.pdf" target="_blank">91 percent of its budget</a>&nbsp;from government grants, i.e., our taxes. Each refugee also gets a one-time payment of $925 from the federal government when they arrive. &nbsp;</p><p>Bill Kerr, who has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/09-013_15702a45-fbc3-44d7-be52-477123ee58d0.pdf" target="_blank">researched&nbsp;the economic impact of immigration</a>&nbsp;at the Harvard Business School, says you can think of the economic argument for or against admitting more refugees this way: &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a short horizon and a long horizon. In the short horizon, the public is going to have to play a financial role.&rdquo;</p><p>Eric Duffy with the<a href="http://www.refugees.org/about-us/where-we-work/vrrp/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program</a>, quantifies the short term to about four months. For the fiscal year 2014, 92 percent of the refugees the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program took in were economically self-sufficient within 120 days, earning an average wage of $9.66 an hour. &ldquo;Self-sufficient&rdquo; means having more money coming in then going out &mdash; people can pay for their rent, food and utilities.&nbsp;</p><p>And they&rsquo;re contributing to the economy.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re going to start paying taxes,&rdquo; says Harvard&#39;s Bill Kerr. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re going to be consuming goods that are going to help the manufacturers and services in the country. They&rsquo;re entrepreneurs; they&rsquo;re going to create new businesses that will employ workers.&rdquo;</p><p>Kerr says more effective companies, and countries,&nbsp;know how to tap into migrants. That being said, he hesitates to think of refugees as an economic competition story, but more a story of shared responsibility.</p><p>Joe Carton, the chief operating officer with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.westporthospitality.com/" target="_blank">Westport Hospitality</a>, a hotel management company in Burlington, has seen the long-term economic and cultural impact of absorbing refugees in Vermont. &nbsp;He hired his first refugees &mdash;Vietnamese workers &mdash; in the early 1990&rsquo;s.</p><p>&ldquo;The next generation of Vietnamese, they own businesses, they&rsquo;re going to college, they&rsquo;re pillars in the community. So it&rsquo;s really an exciting story,&rdquo; says Carton.</p><p>He says he&rsquo;d welcome an influx of refugees from Syria or wherever. Vermont<a href="http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/fiscal-year-2014-refugee-arrivals" target="_blank">&nbsp;processed only&nbsp;317 refugees</a>last year. He&#39;d welcome more.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;They (refugees) are dedicated, they are loyal, they come to work every day. If they don&rsquo;t come to work, their mother comes to work.&rdquo;</p><p>And he says bringing in more refugees doesn&rsquo;t just make business sense.&nbsp;He thinks his state, which is 93.5 percent white, could benefit by becoming a little more culturally diverse.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-10-02/more-us-bound-refugees-labor-starved-vermont-businesses-welcome-obama-s-call" target="_blank"><em>via PRI&#39;s The World</em></a></p></p> Fri, 02 Oct 2015 12:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/more-us-bound-refugees-labor-starved-vermont-businesses-welcome-obama%E2%80%99s-call-113156 Study finds ample U.S. graduates to fill STEM jobs http://www.wbez.org/news/study-finds-ample-us-graduates-fill-stem-jobs-106847 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickr_RMTip21.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As Congress considers <a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/686529-immigration-border-security-economic-opportunity.html" target="_blank">a makeover of the country&rsquo;s immigration policies</a>, they&rsquo;ll discuss an expansion of the H-1B temporary visa program for high-skilled foreign nationals. The H-1B program is popular among employers, including several in Illinois, who have long asserted that U.S. colleges and universities are not producing enough graduates in the science and technology fields.</p><p>But <a href="http://www.epi.org/publication/bp359-guestworkers-high-skill-labor-market-analysis/" target="_blank">a new study from the Economic Policy Institute</a>, a Washington-based non-profit which receives about 30 percent of its funding from labor unions, finds that there are more domestic graduates in those fields than the market can accommodate. The study looks over time at domestic graduates in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (or STEM), as well as temporary guest worker inflows on the H-1B, L-1, and Optional Practical Training visas, where large shares of visa holders work in IT jobs.</p><p>&ldquo;There are, as we found before, a large supply of STEM graduates,&rdquo; said Hal Salzman, a professor at Rutgers University and one of the authors of the report. &ldquo;We just can&rsquo;t see in the numbers a failure of U.S. colleges and universities to produce sufficient supply,&rdquo; he said. Salzman co-authored the paper with professors Daniel Kuehn of American University and B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University.</p><p>H-1B workers account for thousands of jobs in Greater Chicago, which historically <a href="http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/2011AR_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">has been one of the top five hubs in the nation for workers on that visa</a>. In federal fiscal year 2011 more than 11,000 skilled workers came to Chicago on H-1B visas, with India-based IT consulting company Infosys employing nearly one in ten of them as computer programmers. Suburban Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg also accounted for an additional 4,300 H-1B workers. Average wages for H-1B workers in these cities ranged between $63,000 and $69,000.</p><p>The study finds that the domestic supply of students in STEM fields responded to industry demand as expected during the 1990s and into the early 2000s, but that a shift occurred in 2004 when companies began shifting their search for talent overseas.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look at what happened in the lead up to the dot-com bubble to the peak, you can see that wages rose steeply, unemployment was fairly low, right up until the 2001 peak, and the result was that the number of students pursuing computer science overall doubled,&rdquo; said Salzman, &ldquo;it seems that students are very responsive to market signals.&rdquo;</p><p>The authors find, however, that after the recovery from the dot-com recession, employment in the IT sector began picking up, but wage growth did not resume. They attribute this to an increasing reliance on foreign workers for those jobs. &ldquo;The guest worker supply, understandably, coming from low-wage countries, is very plentiful, (and) will continue almost despite whatever wage levels are here because they&rsquo;re still better than what (they) would be in their home country,&rdquo; said Salzman.</p><p>One result of the divergence between demand and wages for IT workers, said Salzman, is that many American STEM graduates are opting to work in other fields. The study finds that one-third of computer science graduates and nearly half of engineering students fail to go into jobs related to their degrees because they couldn&rsquo;t find jobs, or because they felt they had better career prospects in other fields.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s basic Econ 101,&rdquo; said Salzman. &ldquo;If you bring in a lot and flood the market, it depresses wages (and) lowers job quality. And we&rsquo;ve certainly seen that in interviews we&rsquo;ve done over the years, where people think what used to be good jobs, particularly in IT, are no longer high-quality jobs. They think they&rsquo;re unstable, wages have not gone up and they counsel their kids to go elsewhere.&rdquo;</p><p>The STEM report comes as Congress picks over a proposed new immigration overhaul. The legislation by the so-called Gang of Eight would dramatically expand employers&rsquo; access to skilled, temporary foreign workers, while also imposing additional controls. The H-1B visa program, currently capped at 85,000 visas annually for highly-educated foreign nationals, would over time grow to 180,000 visas. It would also prohibit large companies from staffing more than half of their workforce with H-1B visa holders, and would require companies to pay higher wages to those workers.</p><p>Very few legislators in Washington question the assumption that U.S. companies have been unable to locate qualified, STEM-educated American workers. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/south-asians-track-proposal-worker-visa-program-105186" target="_blank">Two separate bills</a> proposed in the Senate in recent months have both looked at increasing the H-1B cap. Large companies such as Microsoft have been particularly vocal about the need to change immigration policies to allow for more temporary, skilled workers.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think the argument here is that foreign workers aren&rsquo;t good or they aren&rsquo;t productive,&rdquo; said Lowell. &ldquo;I think the argument is yeah, I think we want foreign workers we want employers to have access to, but the question really is, in what amount, and is more better?&rdquo;</p><p>Lowell and the other study authors said the devil will be in the details of any changes to immigration policies. They point out that while the immigration bill does propose higher wages for H-1B workers, it would still allow these workers to be paid 20 percent less than the average wage for those industries.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" target="_blank">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 25 Apr 2013 16:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-finds-ample-us-graduates-fill-stem-jobs-106847