Welcoming N.H. sees extra hurdles for immigrant workers

  • When Tyson Foods closed its Manchester meatpacking plant in 2004, Eva Castillo went in to assist the employees who lost their jobs. She said she was shocked to find that some of the people performing the menial work were immigrants who were trained in their home countries for prestigious jobs. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/27/2017 10:43:56 PM

When Tyson Foods closed its Manchester meatpacking plant in 2004, Eva Castillo went in to assist the employees who lost their jobs.

She said she was shocked to find that some of the people performing the menial work there were immigrants who were trained in their home countries for prestigious, intellectual jobs.

“We had doctors, we had lawyers that were packing beef in the grossest ... I have never touched a hamburger since I went inside that plant,” Castillo told the Monitor’s editorial board Thursday.

Since then, Castillo has become the director of Welcoming New Hampshire, an organization working on behalf of newcomers to the state to ensure they can integrate into the workforce.

And she’s found that it’s common for highly trained immigrants to be walled off from their specializations because of burdensome and outdated credentialing processes. Even the children of immigrants, who are educated in local schools, can suffer from biases based on nothing more than their foreign-sounding last names, she said.

She held out the example of her friend, an Iraqi engineer, who now drives a bus in New Hampshire, and his son, who has been educated locally since he was five years old.

“The poor kid can’t find a job because his name is Mohammed, so nobody gives him the time of day,” she said.

Another friend of hers, who has a master’s degree from Harvard and a Muslim-sounding name, performed an experiment to home in on this perceived bias. He sent his resume – and a copy with a white-sounding name – to 10 New Hampshire companies, she said.

“No one called” the foreign-sounding name, she said. “They all called the American name.”

Castillo said she hopes her organization can counteract stereotypes that see immigrants and refugees as “needy.” In fact, she said, they fill gaps in the workforce and they’re itching to contribute in the roles they’ve trained for in their home countries.

For the Iraqi engineer who now drives a bus, she noted, “Math has no language.” And for the 20-year chief of surgery at a Dominican hospital who isn’t even allowed to draw blood for the Red Cross, she said, “We need to really change the systems to take advantage of these people that are coming here with skills that are transferrable, because a brain here is the same as a brain in the Dominican Republic.”

The members of Castillo’s organization are partnering with chambers of commerce, nonprofits and anyone else who will work with them to ensure that “equal opportunity” isn’t just a phrase written on job postings.

“We need to put those laws into practice, because if they stay on paper, they’re not going to get anywhere,” she said.

Welcoming New Hampshire made a presentation to officials at the State House on Thursday, hoping to gain new backing to make the state more accessible and productive.

She said: “The systems here are so hard to crack. Every system needs a revamping.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)




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