Catholic Charities helps skilled immigrants find an old job in a new country

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Amjad Shkera was a medical representative for a cosmetics company in Saudi Arabia when war in his home country of Syria forced him to leave. "There was a problem extending my visa, so I had to go to another country that would grant me asylum or refugee status," he said. "That's why I came here."

Shkera, a native Damascan with a pharmacy background, faced some of the difficulties skilled immigrants experience after arriving in America: troubles learning English proficiently and issues navigating the "super complicated" relicensing process, he said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 29 percent of U.S. immigrants have at least a college degree. That's roughly 10.5 million of the 36.7 million immigrants in the country. Virginia is home to a little more than 3 percent of the country's skilled immigrant population, making it the state with the seventh largest percentage of college-educated immigrants.

Still, many are not working in their field or at all. "In the 2012- 14 period, approximately 1.8 million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. labor market were either unemployed or working in low-skilled jobs including as dishwashers, security guards or taxi drivers," according to the Migration Policy Institute.

To equip skilled immigrants with the tools they need to find jobs in their new country, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria Campus, hosted a daylong seminar Aug. 5, titled, "Rebuild your Professional Career in the U.S." The event was sponsored by the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and the Arlington diocesan Catholic Charities, among others.

In the morning, the 300 participants listened to talks on the accreditation evaluation process, tips for job searching and an overview of the rights they possess as legal immigrants. In the afternoon, they met with local professionals in fields such as information technology, health, business and entrepreneurship.

Shkera learned about the seminar after recently becoming a client of Catholic Charites, an organization he has come to love. "They're so welcoming … . They keep updating us with (various) workshops," he said. "Catholic Charities is the best community service I've ever seen."

After working for a year as a pharmacy intern, Shkera decided to switch fields entirely. He moved from California to Springfield to earn a Master of Business Administration in international relations and global affairs from BAU International University in Washington. "Because of the war, I would love to deliver (the news of) what's going on back in Syria into one of the most powerful countries," he said.

He hopes to network at events like these to find a job either while he's in school or after he graduates in a year. "Right now, I would love to learn and work," said Shkera.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016