International Rescue Committee (IRC)



Photo: IRC Staff (front row) with VESL Plus graduates (back row). 

Most refugees arrive in the United States with little English, work experience accrued thousands of miles away in jobs that may not even exist in San Diego, and the added burden of adjusting to a brand new culture after years of war and persecution.  Add in a pressing economic need to find employment quickly, and it is easy to see why newly arrived refugees need support during these critical first months.

The IRC in San Diego offers an innovative Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) Plus program for refugees.  These newly arriving refugees spend 32 hours a week for 8 weeks (Iraqi refugees) or 16 weeks (Swahili and Karen Burmese speakers) learning valuable skills that will help them find and keep employment to support the economic health of their families.  Mornings are filled with VESL classes that enable refugees to rapidly learn the English skills they need to look for work, complete job applications, and interview for jobs.  A reasonable class size, experienced VESL instructor, and instructional assistants ensure that all students get the individual attention they need to make rapid progress.

Learning English is only part of what a refugee needs to be successful.  As such, afternoon class sessions include classes in Work Readiness, Financial Literacy, Computer Literacy, Transportation, Career Development, and more.  These classes are taught in the refugee’s native language to maximize learning.

In these interactive classes, participants
• develop resumes,
• practice interview skills,
• apply for open jobs,
• learn about bank accounts and credit scores,
• build household budgets,
• plan and take bus trips,
• learn how to use basic computer programs,

By the time participants have finished VESL Plus, their knowledge, skills, and confidence are greatly increased.  In the words of one Iraqi refugee who completed the program, “I can now speak English…meet the hiring manager for a job…I am ready to interview.”

Indeed, assessment data from refugees completing the program show dramatic gains in English language skills.  As important, all program graduates have demonstrated their ability to properly complete a job application in English and have expressed confidence in their ability to ask for job applications, interview for jobs, and present themselves.  The majority of program graduates opened bank accounts and demonstrated greater knowledge of credit and finances in the U.S. and all participants showed improvement in computer literacy skills.

The VESL Plus program is only the beginning for these refugees.  Armed with these skills – and strong connections to IRC programs and services that can continue to support them – VESL Plus program graduates are well-prepared for long-term success.

For more information about VESL Plus, please contact

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