Father of two joins other Afghan refugees at a Virginia job fair as he seeks to rebuild his life in the U.S.
Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August, thousands of refugees have settled in the Washington region, inundating resettlement agencies. Many of them — like the man, whom The Washington Post is not identifying because of concerns about his family’s safety in Kabul — have struggled to find stable housing and jobs.
“It’s our hope that employers are starting to see just how talented this population is and will continue to open up higher-level roles and see this as a prime pool of talent,” said Melissa Diamond, one of the event organizers, who also leads an initiative for Talent Beyond Boundaries, an international nonprofit that helps displaced people find jobs.
The man had once worked as a senior government official, doing data analysis and project management. He loved his career, which also afforded him a middle-class lifestyle. His wife stayed home with their son, who’s now 11 months old. Their daughter, 5, attended private school in Kabul.
When the city fell, he’d been in Washington for work training. He applied for asylum, rented an apartment in Arlington with a roommate, and hoped that the rest of his family would soon get visas to join him. On video calls, they described how their home had been searched by the Taliban three times. As a well-known activist for women’s rights, he knew his family was at risk.
He sent whatever money he could back to them. But for the first six months, his visa didn’t authorize him to work. His savings dwindled. Rent and utilities were $1,500. The silver 2011 Toyota Corolla he’d bought on Facebook Marketplace cost $7,000. The round-trip drive to Woodbridge — where he worked for an Afghan-owned business — was about 40 miles, and gas was expensive. Last month, he’d only managed to save $150.
He’d applied to more than 60 higher-paying jobs.
He hadn’t heard back from most of them.
“It’s hard, especially when you hear you are not shortlisted for a job,” he said. “At first, it made me very emotional, but now I’m used to the disappointment. People say that the United States 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 four copies of his résumé and dressed in a collared shirt and black slacks. He slung his backpack over one shoulder.
A volunteer in a blue T-shirt handed him a ticket with a number — 99049 — and pointed him to the next ballroom, where a dozen companies had set up booths. He walked past a television playing a video, which explained that integrating meant having a meaningful career. “Work hard and be an example,” an on-screen woman said.
At the first stop — for an entry-level recruiting and staffing agency — he handed over his résumé. At the top, he’d typed: “Fully work authorized, no visa sponsorship required.” His last real job, his résumé showed, had ended in August, with the fall of the government.
A man in a polo shirt tucked his résumé into a gray folder thick with papers and promised to call if he found a good match.
“Thank you so much,” the man from Kabul said.
At a booth for the Alexandria Workforce Development Center, he read fliers advertising local jobs. Laundry attendant at Extended Stay America. Retail store associate at CVS Health. Daytime dog-sitter. Another flier announced “Spring into Work,” a two-day event with trainings and résumé help. He wondered if it might be useful. He jotted down his information.
“What are you looking to do?” asked the hiring manager.
The man looked confused.
“But I’m not retired,” he said.
She explained that the employees weren’t retired — but the people they served were. He asked if they had any available jobs in program management or data analysis. She peered down at the man’s résumé, then offered to pass it on to the woman in charge of the facility’s IT department.
“Amber will call you if we have anything,” she said.
He wrote his name on the clipboard and hoped she would call.