Upwardly Global: Helping Immigrants with Diplomas Maintain Their Careers

In the United States, 45% of recently arrived immigrants have the equivalent of at least a bachelor’s degree. However, nearly 2 million immigrants and refugees living in the U.S. who have a college degree are unemployed or have jobs that do not match their qualifications. Upwardly Global (UpGlo) is the first and longest-serving organization that focuses on helping foreign-trained immigrants and refugees integrate into the professional American workforce.

Identifying a Need

Photo UpwardlyGlobalUpGlo was founded in 2000 by Jane Leu, who realized there were no institutions in place to help highly skilled immigrants and refugees regain their professional careers. During a visit to a poultry plant, connected to Jane’s work in refugee resettlement, she met two of the plant’s best employees: an engineer from Iraq and a surgeon from Bosnia. Dismayed by this loss of talent, she hatched the idea of creating an organization that could help newcomers to the U.S. rebuild their careers.
The organization originated in San Francisco. It now has offices in four metropolitan areas and works with immigrant and refugee job seekers across the country. All beneficiaries are fully work-authorized, speak fluent English, and have, on average, seven years of professional experience in their area of expertise. “Approximately 70% of the people we serve are unemployed and 30% are under-employed. It is not just detrimental to them; it is also harmful to local economies, which loses out on their potential,”observes Eben Cathey the former Program Director for the central region of the United States.

In-depth Understanding of the American Job Market

Major obstacles newcomers face are a lack of professional networks and unfamiliarity with the American job market and its cultural practices. That is where Upwardly Global comes in. All beneficiaries begin by completing an online core training to learn how to adapt their resumes to U.S. standards, develop a network, and prepare for job interviews. For tEben Cathey, this education is crucial: “In the United States, for example, we do not put a photo on our resume. If there are 10 identical resumes and yours has a picture, that is the one the recruiter will automatically discard without even reading it. In other cultures, it’s just the opposite.” In the second phase of the program, the beneficiaries receive individual support from an adviser.
UpGlo also provides job seekers with opportunities to put their training into practice and network with professionals in their field. . “We have relationships with 300 businesses and we organize five or six events each month around the country so people can meet and chat.”

Ensuring Everyone Has a Job that Reflects Their Real Value

Photo UpwardlyGlobalThe organization also assists job seekers through the negotiation process. “Here, the company makes an offer, then you negotiate to find common ground. That is the norm. So we teach our beneficiaries not to say yes to the first offer out of an abundance of enthusiasm.” That training is also an integral part of a program UpGlo developed specifically for women, which is backed by the Fondation Chanel. POWAR (Professional Opportunities for Women Asylees and Refugees) provides additional support for immigrant, refugee, and asylee women, enabling them to overcome the additional obstacles they face in entering the professional workforce. The POWAR training covers salary negotiation, navigating the workplace (including modules on sexual harassment), and balancing childcare with employment.

An Approach That Could Benefit Other Countries

Over the years, Upwardly Global has worked with female and male job seekers from over 160 countries. Thanks to its efforts, over 5,000 people have found positions commensurate with their skills, with an average salary of US$ 45,000 per year. “We are one of the rare organizations in the United States to address career development for skilled immigrants,” explains the Program Director for the central region. The approach could be duplicated, especially in Europe, where, for the first time, Upwardly Global is running a pilot program beyond its borders in Germany. As the Director concludes: “We are living in a period of mass immigration, when millions of people are forced to leave their countries, so our program could be valuable elsewhere.”

By Camille C.
Reporter for Fondation CHANEL

Learn more about the project 
Follow the journey of an Upwardly Global beneficiary: “Jacqueline Wakhweya’s American Dream”

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