Economic Inclusion Is a Key Element of Immigrant Integration

Sydney Mogotsi
21 August 2020, Senior Program Officer for Refugee and Immigrant Services, Latter-day Saint Charities

Imagine being forced to leave the land of your heritage to seek safety and resettle somewhere new. Not only is this new environment completely foreign, but the language, customs, and job standards vastly differ from what you know. That’s what Amina Aliako had experienced: she went from being a full-time business owner in Syria to a custodian after finding refuge in the United States.

After Fleeing Syria …

Amina resettled in Philadelphia with her husband in 2017 after fleeing from Syria. In Syria, Amina owned her own upholstery business, but once she arrived in the United States, she had to take a job as a custodian.

Skilled and capable immigrants and refugees are often forced to take low-skilled and low-wage jobs because of barriers like licensing, education recognition, and language. But these stumbling blocks don’t have to be completely debilitating.

For Amina, working as a custodian was very difficult, but she was motivated to change her family’s circumstances.

Doing What She Knew Best In Syria

In Syria, Amina enjoyed cooking for others and was especially known for her delectable pickled vegetables. Amina eventually enrolled in a 12-week business entrepreneurship class at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. The Welcoming Center, a partner with Latter-day Saint Charities, works to help immigrants find better employment and engage in their community. In 2018, that’s exactly what Amina did. She opened up a booth at the Reading Terminal Market, where she sells Syrian pickled vegetables, desserts, and other foods. Amina’s friend and Welcoming Center mentor, Nicole Marcote, gushes about her: “Amina has taken the very little resources she has had and made the most of it. A lot of it has to do with her resilience and her relationships with people.”

Amina Aliako always enjoyed cooking. Through a 12-week business course, she was able to get her pickled vegetable shop going. Photo Courtesy: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

Although COVID-19 has stalled Amina’s business, you can view her cooking videos here. Follow Amina’s developments on her Instagram account.

Creating More Economic Opportunity

The Welcoming Center works hard to create economic opportunities for immigrants by providing employment training, English as a second language (ESL) classes, skills training, business entrepreneurship courses, and community engagement programs. There are many innovative and thoughtful organizations across the United States that are working to help immigrants find better employment and become engaged community members.

In my role as a program officer for Latter-day Saint Charites, and with my decade of experience in the refugee sector, I have met many hardworking, committed refugees and immigrants who, like Amina, are working toward a thriving economic future. I also know that more needs to be done to create an inclusive economic environment for immigrants, refugees, and asylees. We are very proud to partner with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and many other organizations that are working to create opportunities for others to not just survive, but thrive.

A close-up of Amina’s Syrian-style pickled vegetables. Photo Courtesy: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

We Can Help Others Embrace Economic Self-Reliance

Through our combined efforts as neighbors, organizations, and communities, we can continue to emphasize and pave the way for economic self-reliance. Latter-day Saint Charities is continuing its work to move economic inclusion forward. This year we’ve created a grant to help refugees and immigrants become economically self-reliant. The fund focuses on programs that help refugees and immigrants obtain technical skills for careers that provide living wages, mobility, and financial security.

When we actively work to make sure everyone has equitable access to employment, living wages, and economic opportunities, we can help boost the long-term integration of refugees and immigrants.