Businesses should open their doors to Afghan allies and refugees
Over the last 20 years, America’s military, diplomatic corps, press, and nonprofits have employed hundreds of thousands of Afghans to support our efforts in the country. They have worked tirelessly alongside us to promote American values. Now, as the Taliban establishes its control over the country, these same allies and their families are facing grave danger.
The images of Afghans frantically trying to reach safety propelled us into action. With evacuation flights landing in the U.S. by the dozens over the past few weeks, nonprofits, businesses, and individual Americans have mobilized to meet the immediate needs of those arriving by offering shelter and donating food, clothing, and other basic necessities.
While this is critical upon arrival, we must not lose sight of what these deserving newcomers will need to not just survive, but to thrive. We must ensure they have the opportunity to rebuild their lives, and this effort begins by making a decent American living.
The brave men and women who worked alongside our military, our government, and who defended our values have so much to give back to America. They are educated. They speak English. They have extensive, easily transferable work experience, and they have legal work rights.
Afghan interpreters who worked for the American military, along with their family members, are eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for their service, which enables them to work as soon as they arrive. Other Afghans at risk will be granted other legal statuses that also allow them to work legally in the U.S.
Afghans in America make significant contributions, earning $3.5 billion in household income and holding $2.2 billion in spending power, according to New American Economy. However, despite their talents and skills, they often struggle to make a living when they arrive in the U.S. While nearly a third of Afghan SIVs resettled in the U.S. in 2020 had a bachelor’s degree and almost all had a high school diploma, 28% were unemployed, compared to the U.S. native-born unemployment rate of 8.7% at the time. What’s more, SIVs who were employed tended to take on low-skilled jobs for which they were overqualified, preventing them from reaching their full potential.
We must not allow our Afghan allies coming to the U.S. now to suffer the same fate. We have a moral duty to these heroes who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us and their families.
It’s not just our moral duty. Our businesses will thrive with the talent of our Afghan allies, and ensuring they have a place in the U.S. economy makes business sense. As the economy recovers from the pandemic, sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, and construction are desperately struggling to fill open roles. Companies would stand to benefit by hiring those who worked alongside us, and who can bring resilience, ingenuity, and dedication to an economy starving for talent.
This is something we can all agree on. A recent poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (81%) feel the U.S. should support Afghans who worked with our troops and officials in recent years. Our politicians agree, too. A bipartisan group of governors, from Utah, to Arkansas, to Colorado, have opened their arms to Afghans fleeing from danger.
The duty now falls to the business leaders of America. We call on companies across the nation to open their doors to Afghan talent and welcome these newcomers into our workforce. Only then will they stand proud, be able to take care of themselves and their families, and give back to the communities that have so generously welcomed them. This is the most important step the business community can take.
Hamdi Ulukaya is the CEO and founder of Chobani and founder of the Tent Partnership for Refugees. Joe Gebbia is co-founder of Airbnb and chairman of Airbnb.org, a new, independently operated 501(c)3. General Michael Hayden is a retired four-star general who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.
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