Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August, thousands of refugees have settled in the Washington area, flooding resettlement agencies. Many of them – like the man, who The Washington Post is not identifying due to concerns about his family’s safety in Kabul – have struggled to find stable housing and employment.
“We hope employers are starting to see how talented this population is and will continue to open up higher-level positions and see this as a prime talent pool,” said Melissa Diamond, one of the organizers of the event, which also leads an initiative for Talent Beyond Boundaries, an international non-profit organization that helps displaced people find jobs.
The man had once worked as a senior government official, doing data analysis and project management. He enjoyed his career, which also offered him a middle-class lifestyle. His wife stayed home with their son, who is now 11 months old. Their daughter, 5, attended a private school in Kabul.
When the city fell, he was in Washington for vocational training. He applied for asylum, rented an apartment in Arlington with a roommate, and hoped the rest of his family would soon get visas to join him. In video calls, they described how their home was raided by the Taliban three times. As a well-known women’s rights activist, he knew his family was in danger.
He sent them all the money he could. But for the first six months, his visa did not allow him to work. His savings have dwindled. Rent and utilities were $1,500. The silver 2011 Toyota Corolla he bought on Facebook Marketplace cost $7,000. The round trip to Woodbridge – where he worked for an Afghan-owned company – was around 40 miles and petrol was expensive. Last month, he only managed to save $150.
He had applied for more than 60 better paying jobs.
He hadn’t heard from most of them.
“It’s hard, especially when you hear you’re not shortlisted for a job,” he said. “At first it made me very emotional, but now I’m used to disappointment. People say America is the land of opportunity. Where are these opportunities? I haven’t seen them yet.
But he wasn’t ready to give up. The job fair, he thought, might be a good lead. He printed out four copies of his resume and dressed in a collared shirt and black slacks. He threw his backpack over one shoulder.
A volunteer in a blue T-shirt handed him a ticket with a number — 99049 — and directed him to the next ballroom, where a dozen companies had set up booths. He walked past a television showing a video, which explained that integration meant having a meaningful career. “Work hard and be an example,” one woman said onscreen.
At the first stop – for an entry-level recruiting and staffing agency – he handed over his resume. At the top, he typed: “Work permitted, no visa sponsorship required.” His last real job, according to his curriculum vitae, had ended in August, with the fall of the government.
A man in a polo shirt put his resume in a gray folder full of papers and promised to call if he found a good match.
“Thank you very much,” said the man from Kabul.
At a booth at the Alexandria Workforce Development Center, he read flyers advertising local jobs. Laundry attendant at Extended Stay America. Retail Store Associate at CVS Health. Dog sitter during the day. Another flyer advertised “Spring into Work,” a two-day event with training and resume help. He wondered if it could be useful. He jotted down his information.
The next table was strewn with packets of candy and bottles of hand sanitizer. Glossy photos showed a retirement community with green lawns.
“What are you trying to do? asked the recruiter.
“But I’m not retired,” he said.
She explained that the employees were not retired, but the people they served were. He asked if they had any jobs available in program management or data analysis. She looked at the man’s resume, then offered to pass it on to the woman in charge of the institution’s IT department.
“Amber will call you if we have anything,” she said.
He wrote her name on the clipboard and hoped she would call him.