Bhutanese Refugees face employment challenges

 

Bhutanese Refugees face employment challenges
Bhutanese refugees face many challenges in the US workforce. Photo copyright World Relief Spokane, CC.

Refugee employment challenges: This refugee explains the challenges Bhutanese Refugees face while looking for employment.

Finding a job in the United States is one of the biggest challenges for the refugee population in general. I am going to talk about some of the reasons for refugee’s employment issues, consequences of not having an employment, and refugee’s entrepreneurial approach on dealing with unemployment. I am going to use Bhutanese refugee communities as an example since I know more about the Bhutanese community than any other refugee groups.

First, let me explain who Bhutanese people are and a little bit about the history of their profession.

Most of the resettled Bhutanese were farmers in Bhutan. More precisely, most resettled Bhutanese refugees were involved in horticulture type farming and cattle rearing. For example, my father spent most of his youth working on a farm, live stocking cow for its milk, and bartering the leftover food items for other items such as kerosene oil, sugar, tea, and so forth.  Unfortunately, most of his skills were considered ancient and were not transferable to contemporary American farming.

On the other hand, many Bhutanese who grew up in Bhutan didn’t get to go to school due to limited schools, family obligations to work from an early age, or just for being female. Only a handful of people got an opportunity to complete their high school diploma, which at that time was considered a significant achievement and had more value than today’s high school diploma. Only few dozen Bhutanese at that time got to further their education beyond high school.  For most people, getting an education was just a dream.

In 1990, many Bhutanese were expelled from their home country and were forced to live in a refugee camp in Nepal for almost two decades.

The life in the Nepalese camp was completely different compared to the life in Bhutan. There was a rudimentary education in camp funded by nonprofit organization CARITAS partnering with UN agencies; however education outside of the camp was limited due to higher cost, and lack of Nepalese citizenship. Likewise, refugees technically weren’t allowed to work outside the camp. Nevertheless, aid supplies provided by UN agencies weren’t enough to sustain. Thus, refugees were forced to work outside illegally in very low wages.

For example, my father used to work in a nearby village from our camp for about forty cents a day and my mother spent her days fetching firewood and cooking for us. I know my parents were hard-working people in Bhutan and I saw them working hard in Nepalese camp as well. Ironically, when it comes to finding jobs in America, their skills and work experiences are simply not relevant in the American job market. Moreover, their inability to speak and write English impedes their ability to get vocational training.  As a result, they are forced to work in minimum wage jobs in hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets. And this is not just for my parents, it’s the same story for many other refugees of this age and background.

Now, let me talk about the other groups of Bhutanese refugees who did go to school in Bhutan and were able to further their education in camp and elsewhere.

Many refugees from this group do speak English and feel well-adjusted in America. However, their diploma was not validated by American universities and by American companies. Thus, this group also struggles to find jobs of their background. They have to switch gears and redo their training in a completely different profession to help their families. For example, I know a few refugees who have a master’s in physics from Nepal but are doing nursing training in community college.

And, there is another generation from age 18-25 years. Most of this generation grew up or were born in a Nepalese refugee camp, including me. We (my generation) received our primary education from camp schools. When we moved to America, we continued our education in American high school or middle schools and then started our college. Most of us are a first-generation college student. It’s really hard for people of my generation to find a job mainly because we have to compete for jobs with other American students. Also, some of us have family responsibilities and simply cannot move to other cities for employment.

I recently finished my bachelor’s degree from a very good university.

However, I had a hard time landing my ideal job. I applied to many places, did some interviews, and also went to job fairs. I was considered too inexperienced to work in even an entry-level professional position. Most of the jobs I was offered was commission based jobs with no job security. I lingered in a few cities but I didn’t get any opportunity. Not having a job after graduation is financially and emotionally painful.  For many refugees of our generation, we don’t really get time to find ourselves and our career of interest due to the pressure of family responsibilities.

Nevertheless, there are many people in our community who chose to create employment for themselves instead of seeking one.

If you go to major American cities, you would find at least 1 or 2 Bhutanese owned grocery stores and restaurants. Some are starting small jewelry and clothing shops. There are others who have become seasonal tax preparers and some have become an insurance salesman. Some people even found a way to continue their tradition of farming by leasing a small farm and selling goats, sheep and chickens.

These entrepreneurs are truly living the American dream, despite their background as refugees.

Refugees shaking hands

Welcome Refugees to Your Community

As a community member you can help welcome refugees to your community.

Learn more

About Kamal Dahl
Kamal is a refugee from Bhutan and now an American citizen.