- According to the American Immigration Council, Florida immigrants make up more than 25% of the labor force, and in 2018, they comprised 21% of the U.S. population.
- The State of Florida’s Refugee Program accepts more than 27,000 refugees, asylees, and Cuban/Haitian entrants each year. In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Cubans make up 80% of arrivals, but there are also people from Haiti, Iraq, Burma, Egypt, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan, among others.
- Approximately 25% of each year’s new refugees to Florida are children under the age of 19, many unaccompanied minors.
- 45.8% of the foreign-born population in Florida state that they either do not speak English at all or speak it very poorly and this number is increasing (Center for Immigration Studies). This shows an increased need to provide language services and support to immigrants who want to be economically self-sufficient and socially integrated in a new country.
- In 2018, the most popular industries immigrants worked in were predominantly lower-paying jobs that do not require a degree such as healthcare and social assistance, retail, construction, accommodation and food services, and waste management (americanimmigrationcouncil.org).
Barriers for Newcomers
As many newcomers do not have the English language skills to move forward with their lives, they face barriers in reaching personal and professional goals:
- Difficulty obtaining employment, promotions, and/or raises
- Not able to support their children in school and/or advocate on their behalf
- Challenged to access community resources and services
- Unable to communicate with physicians and/or mental health providers
- Unprepared to take the U.S. Citizenship Exam (which is administered in English)
- Isolated and not involved in the local community
Research indicates that new immigrants and refugees who receive comprehensive support that meets their individual and family needs have a stronger sense of belonging and can achieve better economic mobility. According to research on refugee perspectives of integration by Refugee Council USA (RCUSA, 2022) and the report from the Migration Policy Institute providing recommendations to the newly formed Task Force for New Americans (TFNA)(Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 2023), new immigrants and refugees feel better socially connected to their communities, have sufficient cultural knowledge and information to make decisions about education, employment, and can better access health, housing, and community resources if they receive personalized educational, cultural, and workforce support. The National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (NCIIP), drawing from an extensive record of research, policy analysis and technical assistance provided by government organizations, concluded in a new report that new immigrant students have different needs from other English Language Learners (ELL)s and can overcome trauma due to war and the immigration journey and meet their academic and graduation requirements if they are provided with a wide range of specific educational, health and social services (MPI, 2023). The same report concluded that families are better able to understand their rights and responsibilities and navigate the “myriad services” available to them if they are provided with information in accessible language and format. From the perspective of recent refugees, having “cultural brokers” who can bridge the cultural gap is important in helping them navigate American institutions for the first time (RCUSA, 2022).
Long term successful integration is also better obtained if the new immigrants and refugees have sufficient English language and communication skills and receive workforce preparation and training that meets their unique needs. A good command of English and ability to effectively communicate in daily and work situations can positively impact all aspects of their lives- from housing and healthcare to employment and education (RCUSA, 2022).
Unfortunately, existing programs fail to support a comprehensive and long-term understanding of integration that aligns with the unique needs and personal and professional goals of new immigrants and refugees. ELA programs in adult education schools meet less than 5% of the need of language learners in US and 95% of those with a learning need are not served by existing programs (MPI, 2023). Refugee agencies prioritize fast employment and provide support for only 90 days (RCUSA, 2022). Local colleges and workforce programs serve a wide range of adult learners and lack funding to focus attention on the individual career coaching of immigrants with Limited English Proficiency (Nationalskillscoalition.org, 2016). Millions of immigrants, despite having advanced degrees and professional skills, continue to be underemployed in low-skilled jobs resulting in significant economic cost for the individual immigrant and their communities known as “brain waste” (MPI, 2023). Moreover, just availability of English Language Programs in adult schools doesn’t mean that they work for everyone. Many new immigrants do not attend ESL classes due to conflicting work schedules, transportation issues, lack of child care, and widely differing needs in the same large classroom: a substantial number of newcomers have low levels of formal education or never learned English while others have degrees and professional certifications but lack communicative proficiency in English (MPI, 2023).
Data provided by Tampa Bay Refugee Taskforce