Global Cleveland is working to dispel the myth that hiring international talent is too much hassle and not worth it.
“People see an international student resume or a foreign-born resume and immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s going to be more of a hassle than it’s worth,” said Joe Cimperman, president of the non-profit organization.
Cimperman and experts in recruiting and hiring international workers plan to challenge those perceptions at the Global Employer Summit, a day-long event on Tuesday, May 17, aimed at educating the business community about the options and benefits of hiring foreign-born workers.
The end goal is to create a welcoming ecosystem that increases immigrant and refugee employment levels and retains more international university graduates. This, in turn, will help address labor shortages in the region, Cimperman said.
Immigration is a way to support an aging and retiring workforce, a growing problem for the region as the population continues to decline. Immigrants, Cimperman noted, also tend to be younger than the general population, and in the case of many refugees resettled here, they arrive already educated and skilled.
Northeast Ohio has recently seen a higher percentage of refugee migration due to the 74,000 Afghans who came to live in the United States after US military operations ended there in 2021.
The region, which was supposed to house about 440 people from Afghanistan, now hosts up to 2,000, Cimperman said.
As President Joe Biden’s administration pushes an expedited process to bring more than 100,000 Ukrainians with US-based families to the country, northeast Ohio – home to tens of thousands of residents claiming Ukrainian roots – stand to benefit disproportionately from an influx of displaced professionals and skilled workers.
The recent influx of skilled refugees, Cimperman said, could suit small and medium-sized businesses that must fill gaps created by the loss of employees due to, among other things, a wave of baby boomer retirements.
“It’s the middle markets that are hurting the most in the labor space,” Cimperman said. But, he said, these smaller companies also tend to be “uncomfortable” about changing their recruiting and hiring processes.
“We want to push these companies to try something new. A lot of these companies are in such need of skilled workers that they’re trying to recruit through job fairs and $1,000 bonuses,” Cimperman said. “It’s not as simple as hiring your neighbor’s kid, but there’s a reason to take a chance and look for international talent, because it brings you many other benefits.”
For companies without in-house immigration counseling and visa application programs, David Fleschler, vice provost for international affairs at Case Western Reserve University and chairman of the board of Global Cleveland, recommends two programs that enable international students to work with their existing study visas.
The Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program serves as an international internship program where students can work while studying at any US university or college. The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows international students graduating from a US college or university to stay in the country and work for one year or up to three years in a STEM-related field.
Any business can take advantage of these programs, Fleschler said. The CWRU alone averages about 2,000 international students, who make up about 20% of undergraduate students and 24% of graduate students at the school.
The OPT and CPT programs allow students to gain work experience while allowing them to remain in the United States. If they choose to return to their home country, they take with them business connections in the region that potentially increase global opportunities for businesses in the region.
“They work for two or three years and then go back to their home country with a network of industry people here, which means they’re much more likely to work with someone from Cleveland or upstate. is from Ohio, because those are the people they know,” Fleschler says.
Building a reputation as a welcoming place for international workers could benefit both those who come here and the region’s business community, Fleschler said.
“It could help us become a destination community again for international people,” he said.