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Friday Feature: What’s Changing in Cuba?

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Photo Credit:  Patrick Oppman in CNN

Read, see and hear what Cuba is like now in a multi-media feature from CNN.  Images, a video and article from Patrick Oppman focus on the effects of increased travel and reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.

For all of us who resettle Cuban payrolees, we’ve felt the changes in recent and ongoing surges in Cuban arrivals.  Check out previous Higher Friday Features and other posts highlighting ongoing changes affecting Cuban clients.

(On occasional Fridays, we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

Friday Feature: Cuba Collection

Cuban Border Crossers and Changes in U.S.-Cuban Relations

Camera guyRecently, it seems like Syrian refugees are the only story.  Not true. Significant changes in U.S. Cuban diplomatic relations will continue to have an impact on our work and the lives of our Cuban clients.  There seem to be more questions than answers. What’s next and when?

What are the effects on new Cuban arrivals to the U.S. and the Cuban immigrant communities that welcome them? Cubans in Cuba when I visited in 2006 told me that everyone who stayed behind has family in the U.S. They believed those connections would drive economic growth for everyone.  A rising tide lifts all boats.

Second or third generation Cuban-Americans will have different assets to offer their families back on the island than payrolees (border crossers) still within their first five years in the U.S. Even before diplomatic relations were normalized, limits on remittances to Cuba were relaxed allowing Cubans in the U.S. to send larger sums of money back to Cuba for expanded purposes.  Have these changes resulted in increased financial support for Cubans in Cuba from relatives in the U.S.?Cuban Snip one

The number of unauthorized Cubans arriving in the United States nearly doubled in fiscal 2015, rising to 43,159 from 24,278 the previous year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. This represents a 78% increase over the previous year. Click here to read more from a Washington Post article and a Pew Research Center report, both from December 2015.

tico times

Photo Credit: Zach Dyer/The Tico Times

The surge in Cuban border crossers has also had an impact on the Latin American countries they often travel through en route to the U.S. and has made the Cuban journey more difficult and expensive. Ecuador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have tightened travel restrictions in response to increase Cubans transitting across their borders. Border crossers often amass large debts incurred to pay for transportation, fees and bribes en route. How are their motivations, journey and resettlement experience different than in the past as a result of additional obstacles?

“El red Cubano”, the Cuban network, is an informal web of interwoven connections that stretch between Cubans here, in Cuba and along their journey. Information – and sometimes mis-information – spreads quickly through those informal channels. That powerful communication vehicle is almost certainly one factor contributing to increased arrivals.

Higher really want to hear stories about how changes in U.S.-Cuban relations are affecting Cubans on both sides of the 60 mile Straits of Florida that separate Cuba from the U.S.  Please share this post and get in touch at information@higheradvantage.org to offer your insight.

 

Cuba Update

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Cubans working in the city of Trinidad

“El red Cubano” – the Cuban community grapevine –  is a powerful mechanism to spread information – real and imagined.

Continued high numbers of Cuban border crosser arrivals suggests worry about possible changes in parolee status and refugee benefit eligibility.

What’s really going on with U.S.-Cuban relations and what changes could be coming inside Cuba and here?  Read further for one official policy statement followed by two tidbits that could suggest larger changes for Cuba and the Cuban community in the U.S.

1.  Official Policy Statement Maintains the Status Quo – For Now

The U.S. State Department has provided a ‘limited interpretation of normalization’ of the U.S.’s diplomatic relationship with the Cuban Government.  Click here to read the entire Fact Sheet released on July 6.

“The Administration has no plans to alter current migration policy, including the Cuban Adjustment Act. The United States continues to support safe, legal and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States and the full implementation of the existing migration accords with Cuba.”

2.  Sending Money to Family in Cuba Still Complicates Achievement of Economic Self-Sufficiency

Previous relaxation of some sanction policies in 2009 ended limits on the amount of remittances to close relatives.  More recent changes increased the limit on remittances to any Cuban national for humanitarian needs from $500 to $2,000 per quarter.

The vast majority of our Cuban clients send money home to suport their family and friends, often at the expense of their own financial self-sufficiency.  For most recently resettled Cubans, their current salaries are a stricter limit on what they’re able to send home than policy limits.  Expansion could make them feel increased pressure to send more.

3.  Inside Cuba, Economic Opportunities Seem to be Expanding

Click here to read a fascinating article about Cuban internet entrepreneurs in Cuba.  Our Cuban clients are genius at understanding how to make the most of the opportunities they have.  They’re joyful, resourceful, creative and independent.

Our media often talks about a “socialist hangover” to describe a sense of entitlement and work ethic that looks different than expected in the U.S. job market. Many of us have heard Cubans share a common expression about work in Cuba.  “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

As political and socio-economic changes continue in Cuba, it seems likely that socialist attitudes will, too.

Send any additional insight you can share about how ongoing changes are affecting our clients to information@higheradvantage.org

 

 

What’s Going to Happen with Cubans?

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All of this will make it more possible to visit Cuba. Get your passports ready! Photo credit: Anonymous traveler

Suddenly in December, after more than 50 years, relations were normalized between the U.S. and Cuba.  Hopefully, that will bring positive changes to life in Cuba.

What could it eventually mean for Cuban border crosser (payrolee) status and the Cuban Haitian Program that funds much of our support services for this population?.

Click here to read an excellent article from the Migration Policy Institute that outlines what these policy changes mean now, what they might mean later and what a change in immigration policy for Cuban border crossers would require from the U.S. Congress.

Last fall saw increased numbers of Cuban border crossers attempting a dangerous sea crossing and the highest numbers of arrivals in more than five years.   Click here to read more from the New York Times.

 

 

 

 

Discussing the Changes to the FY17 Matching Grant Program Guidelines

In June, the Office of Refugee Resettlement released the FY17 Program Guidelines for Matching Grant. MG is a highly competitive program and requires significant program outcomes so staying aware of changes to the program guidelines is very important.

Many of you are already familiar with the FY17 changes, but just in case you missed the memo, here are two important changes you need to know about:

  1. Home visits are required for non-R&P clients (any client not resettled by your agency). Here are a few examples of clients that that this policy would apply to:
    • A family of 4 asylees was granted asylum just 12 days ago and comes to your office requesting employment services. After verifying their date of asylum, copying their eligibility documents and conducting a through intake and assessment you decide (you may need to request permission from headquarters) to enroll the family in MG.
    • Another agency calls and says they have a family of 3 recently arrived SIV recipients. After meeting the family, conducting an intake and assessment, and verifying eligibility and requesting permission from the other agency, you enroll the family in MG.
    • A Cuban parolee comes to your office on day 30 and has already applied for her EAD and you live in a state where the EAD come in quickly. You assess the situation and decide to enroll the client in MG.

A home visit must be conducted for each of these clients if they are enrolled in your MG program if they are receiving funds for housing. The home visit should ideally be conducted with an interpreter to ensure the housing is safe then the staff must be documented in the client’s case notes. Please check with your RA for specifics of how to conduct this visit. 

2.Potential clients who arrive without the benefit of R&P services must be screened for human trafficking. If there is reason to believe that the client has been trafficked an appropriate referral must be made. This change pertains to potential MG clients who did not come through the Reception and Placement program. Examples include:

    • Cuban or Haitian entrants with paroled status
    • SIV recipients who travel to the United States on their own
    • Asylees

Photo credit CWS Durham

ORR does say that this rule will only apply after the Office of Trafficking in Persons (under the Administration for Children and Families) and Refugee Council USA have jointly developed a screening procedure. After speaking with RCUSA that policy has yet to be developed. If this changes, Higher will be sure to send an update. It is important that refugee MG programs regularly review and train staff on the MG guidelines as ORR will continue to ramp up it site monitoring of this program throughout FY17.

The FY17 MG Program Guidelines with highlighted changes can be accessed here..

Higher is here to support you. If you need additional support related to MG, please let us know at information@higheradvantage.org.

Welcome Nicole Redford, Program Manager for Higher

Today is Nicole’s first day! Nicole Redford joins us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Nicole has spent the last few years with USCRI as the Employment Coordinator overseeing six staff working in four programs: Matching Grant, Refugee Assistance Program, Targeted Assistance Grant, and the Cuban Haitian programs. She started the agency’s first job upgrade program securing grants and private donations. She has also worked with refugees across the spectrum of service areas as the Youth Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in NYC, and as the Program Manager for Art for Refugees in Transition (A.R.T.) for three years. Nicole has a Master’s in Global Affairs from NYU where she focused on Human Rights.

Please join us in welcoming Nicole!

4 Best Practices for Serving Highly Skilled New Arrivals

From the White House National Credential and Skills Institute

These four best practices are 100% achievable in the context of our emphasis on starter jobs and limited resources.  We can all do these things to provide highly skilled professionals with the basic foundation they need to achieve career advancement.

ONEOffer survival jobs with the highest English-speaking potential

Our emphasis on early employment means that most highly skilled professionals need to accept a starter job.  Helping clients develop realistic expectations and a long term career plan is critical. We can also do a better job of identifying initial job options that offer some chance to practice English.

Depending on a client’s current level of English, this might mean busing tables to support English speaking waiters instead of washing dishes with a Spanish speaking crew.  Instead of hotel housekeeping, try to develop custodial jobs at hospitals or nursing homes with more chance to interact with English speaking staff and customers.

Strong employer partners offer other options to strengthen the English-speaking potential of a starter job. Discuss mentoring, lunch time English conversation clubs or on-site language classes. Providing picture vocabulary guides or other bilingual signage can create common ground for managers and team members with different native languages to work on vocabulary and improve communication. Download hotel and food service vocabulary guides in several client languages from Higher’s website.

TWO

Make sure accurate information is available about career advancement options 

Clients need strong and diverse support networks for long term success.  One downside of that is the likelihood of hearing bad advice from a source they trust more than you.  If a well-meaning community leader or ESL teacher doesn’t have complete or accurate information, clients can waste their time and money on the wrong things.

Make sure that accurate information is available through your agency.  Make sure you provide it to key community leaders, anchor relatives and other community stakeholders, as well.

Don’t be afraid to have frank conversations with partner agencies when you become aware that well-meaning staff or volunteers are providing mis-information and conflicting advice.

For new populations especially (like Syrians), holding community forums and information sessions to explain your services and provide information can really help.  Don’t forget to LISTEN to the community perspective, too.  You’ll learn things that will improve your services to that population.

THREEEmpower clients to find creative ways to practice English 

Even when high quality English classes are available, it’s just not always possible for clients to attend despite their strong desire to improve.  There are many creative strategies all clients can use to work on improving their English.

There are all kinds of free resources available for mobile devices.  Check out BUSUU which offers simple, free language lessons available on mobile devices.  Berhanu Dinssa, former Employment Program Manager with Catholic Charities in Arlington, VA, recommends it based on his experience.

Here are more easy ideas that work.  For example, my college Spanish professor, a Cuban refugee, learned by watching cartoons on television. The public library offers free computers and, many times, excellent language learning resources. Sit next to a stranger on the bus to work and try to talk to them in English.

FOURAdd some kind of “Made in America” experience to client resumes

We know how important this is and already have all kinds of strategies to make it happen. Volunteering.  Internships.  A starter job to add U.S. work experience to an impressive career overseas.

Even providing professional references with U.S. contact information can help once clients make it past the interview stage.  You can serve as a professional reference, as can case managers, ESL teachers and volunteers.

Consider listing successful completion of your job readiness class and initial basic ESL as a small initial step toward adding U.S.-based experience to a resume. In time, adding courses from a community college or other recognized institution is even better.

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From the White House podium, it was reaffirming to hear the explicit acknowledgement that it takes time for new immigrants to build a basic stable foundation before they are ready to pursue career advancement. We should also accept the unspoken mandate to be sure we provide as much as we can to give highly skilled professional refugees hope for the future and a strong basic foundation for future career success.

The best practices in this post were presented at the White House National Skills and Credential Institute by Stacey K. Simon, Director of Imprint, an organization that works to help highly skilled refugee and immigrant professionals utilize their training and expertise to its fullest in their new homes in the U.S. Click here if you aren’t already familiar with Imprint’s work and resources.

Advice from Uber Drivers

rideshare

Do drivers actually make any money through ride hailing applications (apps) like Uber and Lyft?

There’s lots of controversy around the business practices of Uber and Lyft. A lot of our clients do these jobs. Some of us might provide them information about the opportunity. Is it a good income generating option for our clients, though?

Click here for background information and a presentation that Catholic Charities in Arlington, VA shared with us in 2014.

I’ve been taking a lot of Ubers over the past three months since I broke my ankle in March, so I conducted an informal two question survey.

Question One: Are drivers really making any money after expenses and wear and tear on their vehicle?

Close to half of my 20+ drivers were first generation immigrants. Four were refugees or asylees.

Only threee said they kept detailed financial records or had solid information about whether they were actually making money after expenses.  One said he made enough to pay for his weekend motorcycle rides. The second said it paid for itself and he did it to stay connected in retirement. A third said he made money to augment his retirement income, but not enough to support a family.

What I found out isn’t scientific. I formed an opinion, though:

Driving for a ride share app can be a great second job and a way to build U.S. driving experience for a resume. It could also be an effective way to  practice English and customer service skills. Without multiple sources of customers and a chauffeurs license, I’m not convinced that it can generate a full-time living wage. If you do it right, you can make some income.

Question Two: Can you share any insider tips to help refugees around the country succeed in this job?

Some of these could help your clients make the right decision about driving for Uber and help them be more successful if they do.  Here’s what I learned:

 

one star Those 5 star rating emails are important.  If a driver falls below 4.5, they can be penalized or even fired.  Just a couple of 4 star ratings and one 2 or 3 can hurt you.  All of the drivers agree about this and offer different ways they try to get 5 stars every time.

  • Drive safely. If people are scared in your car, you won’t get a good rating.
  • Keep your car clean but don’t use those stinky air fresheners because many people are allergic.
  • Don’t dress like a slob – or like a jerk in a suit. Somewhere in between is the best.
  • Get out of the car to help them open the door or put their bags in the trunk.
  • There is not agreement about offering water, mints or wifi access, About half of the drivers surveyed had something like that in their car.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 10.55.52 AMPay attention to surge pricing and traffic patterns. You can make more money if you can drive more often when the rates are high, but they don’t stay high for very long.

  • My favorite driver, Eliades, came to the US from Cuba during the Mariel boat lift in the 80’s.  He doesn’t accept any requests for rides right before the daily afternoon surge so he doesn’t miss the higher rate and says he makes more money that way.
  • Uber has a trip calculator for customers to estimate the cost of the trip.  Three drivers used it to know if they wanted to accept a ride request to a far destination they didn’t know.
  • All of them agree that knowing the best roads to avoid traffic and not get lost is important.
  • There was no agreement about driving during rush hour or avoiding it.

 

Prfuel_meter_2006ofessional drivers know how to conserve fuel and be kind to their vehicle.  Several of the drivers I questioned had professional chauffeur licenses. That gave them a certain bias, but some of their advice made sense.

  • Don’t ever drive over the speed limit.
  • Don’t slam on the breaks when someone stops in front of you.  Slow down slowly.
  • Don’t gun the engine to get ahead when the light turns green.
  • Don’t keep a lot of extra junk in the trunk of your car  Extra weight burns more gas.
  • When you’re waiting for a customer (idling) for more than 5 minutes, turn off the engine.
  • Keep your tires fully inflated and keep your car well maintained.

 

 

customerserviceCustomer service is the most important thing.  Everyone I asked agreed on this but it was the hardest to explain.  You have to like meeting lots of people.  If you don’t, you probably won’t be an Uber driver very long.

  • Always be polite and friendly.
  • Don’t make or accept cell phone calls while you are driving someone.
  • Don’t ever get mad or take their behavior personally.  Just think about the 5 stars.
  • You have to be able to read their mood quickly and adjust your behavior to match it.  If they don’t want to talk, don’t do it.  If they don’t like your music, change it. If they’re cold or hot, change the temperature in the car.

 

Workforce Resource: On-the-Job Training

On the Job TrainingWelcome to the third post in our series featuring some of the tools, resources and programs available in the mainstream workforce system, shaped by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and delivered through the national network of American Job Centers serving all U.S. job seekers.

It’s a complex, resource-rich system underutilized in refugee employment services. Higher is determined to change that so our clients benefit from new opportunities and employment services.

We’ll do the research you don’t have time for amidst managing client caseloads and employer relationships. You can focus on using highlighted resources to help your clients succeed in the U.S. workforce.

In our first two posts we highlighted online tools that you can utilize in your job counseling and job development efforts. In the next few posts we want to shift to highlighting programs within the mainstream workforce system that can help your clients break into career fields that they are interested in.

Breaking into a Career through On-the-job Training

Breaking into one’s field of choice can be a challenge, even for native-born Americans. On-the-job Training (OJT) is funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and is one strategy for obtaining or updating skills and securing employment.

OJT is a win-win situation in which the OJT participant receives training and employment and the employer is reimbursed for the training costs (usually calculated at half the pay rate for the agreed-upon training period- although under the new WIOA legislation states can choose to increase employer reimbursement up to 75%).

OJT & Refugees

For refugees, OJT can be a strategic way to either re-enter one’s former industry or gain new skills that will put them on a stable career path in the US.

Because OJT is a comprehensive skills training program, it will be most useful for refugees with higher levels of English and literacy. Some programs, however, have found success placing LEP clients in OJT placements when there is a strong relationship between the employer and the refugee employment program in which they work as a team to make sure the OJT training is successful.

From the research Higher has done so far, refugees with backgrounds in “blue-collar” industries (e.g. construction, manufacturing) seem to be a particularly good fit for OJT, because of the experience they bring to the table, and because the federal reimbursement opportunity is attractive to small and medium sized business in these fields.

That being said, there have also been successful OJT placements with both high skilled refugees with more professional backgrounds and low-skilled refugees with little to no work background (see examples below).

Places Where it’s Worked

OmahaOmaha, NE:

Partnership: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (Omaha) with WIOA Contractor Goodwill Industries of Omaha, NE

Population: Afghan SIVs

Industry: Construction

 

“With [WIOA/OJT] dollars and Lutheran Family Service’s reputation and connection to the community, we’re able to put together a package that speaks to a hiring manager or organization…and it’s quick—participants are getting enrolled in our program and within 3 or 4 weeks they’re working. We use our dollars to pay for tools, steel toed boots—whatever they need to be successful on the job, as well as paying money towards the employer for hiring through our program” –Justin Dougherty, (former) Director of Workforce Services, Goodwill Industries, Inc., Omaha, NE

Orlando__Lake_Eola_1Orlando, FL:

Partnership: Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL and local employers (Catholic Charities operates the OJT program in house using WIOA funds)

Populations: Cubans, Haitians, and Iraqis

Industries: Dentistry (Dental Assistant), Childcare (Assistant Teacher), Logistics/Warehouse, Hospitality (Maintenance Technicians and Front Desk), Food Processing

“OJT is a good option because it provides employment that is higher paying than most entry level positions, gives some clients an opportunity to continue in their field, and gives others a great ‘stepping stone’ job.” –Daisy Clemente, Employment Services Coordinator, Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL

Salt Lake CitySalt Lake City, UT:

Partnership: IRC, Salt Lake City, UT with Utah Department of Workforce Services Office

Populations: Sudanese, Burmese, Iraqi

Industries: Sewing, Construction/remodeling, Glass recycling

 

“We keep OJT in our back pocket as an incentive for employers who are a little hesitant [to hire refugees].” –Nolan LaBarge, Employment Specialist, IRC, Salt Lake City, Utah

Tips for Success

In talking to these 3 sites, some common themes emerged in terms of what made their OJT efforts successful:

  • Commit to learning the system: If you don’t already have someone on staff who has a background in mainstream workforce development, identify someone who can commit the time to learning the process and be the liaison between your office and the American Job Center (AJC). Additionally, look for allies within the mainstream system who are excited about your work and can give you an insider’s perspective on how to navigate the system.
  • Strong job development makes strong OJT placements: Often times it’s the employers you already have strong relationships with who will be most interested in placing your clients in OJT. You can also use OJT as a selling point when approaching new employers. Either way, you can put the opportunity on their radar and if they’re interested, you can can make the connection to the AJC to continue the process.
  • Provide good marketing materials for employers: In the same way that you provide employers good information about refugees, consider also leaving them with a nice brochure about OJT. Give them something to think about, and follow up with them shortly afterwards.
  • Offer employers additional support (coordinating interpretation, etc.): Let them know that you not only can provide them with strong candidates, but you are available to provide reasonable support to them to help with some of the challenges that come along with hiring refugees.
  • Make the right match: Always remember to take your clients past experience and skills into account when recommending them for OJT. While OJT may at times provide an opportunity for someone to learn completely new skills, the OJT program is primarily designed to be a skills upgrade program, and trainees are expected to begin contributing as productive workers on day one. The refugee programs that have found success with OJT have done so largely because they capitalized on skills their clients already had.

Getting Started & Learning More

If OJT is new for you, the best place to get started would be to contact your local American Job Center (AJC). Click here to find an AJC near you.

Once you identify the OJT resources and process in your community, you can begin marketing the program to employers that you work with.

The Employment Training Administration (ETA) is in the process of updating its’ OJT Toolkit which will be made available soon on the new Workforce GPS website, but in the meantime click here to access a recent webinar entitled “Strategies for Implementing OJT Simply and Effectively” as well as an OJT Training Brief and Resource Guide by the same name (you can find it in the left hand column called “Related Resources”).

Coming Soon…

Also, keep your eyes out in the next month or so for the next edition of our Workforce Collaboration Case Study Series, which will take a deeper look at the OJT partnership (highlighted briefly in this post) between Lutheran Family Services and Goodwill Industries in Omaha, NE.

Have You Placed Clients in OJT?

It’s impossible for us to know everything that everyone is doing out there. If you’ve placed clients in OJT, please let us know so that we can learn from your experiences as we continue to look at this strategy for refugee employment! Send us an email at information@higheradvantage.org.