Newly arriving Afghan refugees are being helped by local organizations including the Port of Seattle, World Relief, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the State Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Port Jobs stands ready to work with these and other organizations, employers, and members of the SEA Airport community to create a welcoming environment for Afghans. Washington is one of the top states where Afghans will resettle; we expect more than 3,000 Afghans to join our community by February 2022.
The Port of Seattle staff and a coordinated team of provider partners greet Afghan arrivals at the airport and begin the process of connecting them to vital resources. According to Pennie Saum, Port of Seattle Process Improvement Manager, the Port of Seattle is placing a high priority on streamlining and expediting the hiring process for Afghans who may want to work in the port economy. Bookda Gheisar, Senior Director of the Port’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is spearheading the Port’s work in coordination with Operation Allies Welcome and SEA Airport Managing Director Lance Lyttle.
Port Jobs is coordinating with multiple groups and agencies to engage and support Afghan refugees who want to work at SEA Airport. We invite resettlement organizations, community partners and Afghans to:
- Utilize the Airport Jobs hotlist, which has open airport positions and upcoming hiring events and is available at www.portjobs.org and sent weekly to our CBO mailing list.
- Make appointments with clients to Airport Jobs for job search assistance.
Once they are hired, our Airport Jobs and Airport University staff will provide training to refugees who need assistance passing security badge training and testing, which is a requirement for many airport jobs.
We also turn to our large network of community allies for guidance and support. We reached out to a previous employee of Airport Jobs, Mohammad Sorush. Thinking back on his own experiences moving from Afghanistan to the United States with his wife and two young children, Mohammad offered great insights on the services that Afghans need. He said that he was fortunate, because when he arrived in2015, due to his work with USAID as a contractor and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status, his paperwork and social security card were in place. He had an impressive portfolio that included earning a bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science, and experience working as an Assistant Professor at Herat University in Afghanistan. He also had earned an Asian Law LL.M. Master’s Degree in 2010 from the University of Washington and worked for 4 years as a legal advisor from 2010-2014 for DPK Consulting and an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in Afghanistan.
Even with an advanced education and significant work experience, Mohammad said getting a job in the United States took time. He had been looking for work for two months before being introduced to Airport Jobs by Jewish Family Services; he interned with and was later hired by Port Jobs. Today Mohammad is still working at the airport and is employed as a Supervisor at the International Currency Exchange. In addition, he is working for Port Jobs to provide translation assistance so that Afghans visiting the office have ready access to information about Airport Jobs and community resources in Dari, one of the main languages spoken in Afghanistan.
When thinking about the needs of Afghans, Mohammad recommended the following: “First make sure that their housing needs are met so they have a place to call home. Second, help them access public benefits for food, cash assistance and Medicaid. Third, start working with people to get jobs. In most cases, only one person in a family will read and write in English and others in the family will need to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Because the Afghan culture is conservative, the idea of women going to work will be unfamiliar. My wife now works at the airport, but for Afghans this is an idea they are not used to. It will be necessary though as life in the United States is expensive and most families need two incomes. Also, because the airport has safe jobs for women, this is something that Afghan men seeking jobs will benefit from hearing and seeing firsthand.”
Mohammad said Port Jobs’ job search and career coaching services would be in great demand. He explained: “The employment system is so different here in the United States. In Afghanistan it is so simple. But here the application process is hard. Airport Jobs will need to provide a lot of information about job applications and help for people who need to take the airport Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) test to get hired.”
Taking Mohammad’s sage advice into account, Port Jobs will do everything we can to make it easier for Afghans to find out about and use our services, and the services of other organizations. To do this Airport Jobs will take a “whole family” approach to working with Afghans that consider the needs of all family members. This will include connection to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services School Impact, Health Promotion and Mental Health Programs, literacy, maritime and aviation training and food, nutrition, and clothing programs and much more.
Port Jobs has worked closely with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) since we first opened our Airport Jobs office. We want to extend a special note of gratitude to Annie Keating, who recently left IRC for her next adventure. Annie has been a vital ally with Port Jobs since 2008 when she joined IRC as an Employee Specialist. Our partnership with IRC spans many years and includes partnership through times when there were influxes of refugees and immigrants, economic downturns, reduced investments in refugee and immigrant services during the Trump administration, a pandemic and now a surge of Afghans, including humanitarian refugees.
Annie shares these parting words of advice: “Many refugee and immigrant organizations, like IRC, are in the process of building their staff capacity to meet the huge workload they now have. We all need to work together to address this challenging and exciting time to help people find jobs and address the documentation challenges that many people are facing because of their rapid exodus from Afghanistan to the United States. The airport has lots of jobs, and IRC will keep working with Port Jobs to support the transition of the people we serve to jobs in the airport economy. Also, Port Jobs may want to join IRC and others to think more about the childcare needs of families, knowing that many women will be reticent to leave their children with people who are not relatives. Though IRC is working primarily with Afghan men, we convey to families through our financial coaching the benefits of a family having two income earners in the United States economy.”
Port Jobs and IRC are committed to working with families over time, and to creating pathways for them to vital services, such as the IRC community garden, afterschool tutoring and family counseling programs and to Port Jobs’ Airport University career advancement and job placement assistance. Together, we welcome our new Afghan neighbors.