On August 19, the Georgia House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent convened for its first legislative meeting, commencing an important and exciting bipartisan initiative to maximize the economic contributions and workforce participation of our foreign-born neighbors here in Georgia.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 11 to create this groundbreaking study committee during the 2021 legislative session, with broad support from The Business & Immigration for Georgia (BIG) Partnership, of which the IRC in Atlanta is proud to be a member.
The BIG Partnership is committed to strengthening Georgia’s economy by tapping the potential of the state’s foreign-born population and is excited to work with the Study Committee to ensure that all Georgians are able to achieve their full potential. Learn more.
Held at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston and headed by chairman Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), the Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent heard from several groups advocating for the removal of barriers that prevent foreign-born Georgians from fulfilling their potential, including refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations, Georgia companies and employers, and community members with lived experience of these barriers—specifically in the areas of education, employment and entrepreneurship.
For generations, refugees and immigrants have brought skills and talents to Georgia from all parts of the globe, contributing to the growth and innovation of the state’s economy and helping the state earn the title as the top state to do business year after year. Today, one in ten Georgians is foreign-born, as are approximately 1 in 7 workers, 1 in 5 doctors, 1 in 5 STEM professionals, and 1 in 3 owners of main street businesses. “The goal [of the Study Committee] is to find out if there are things, artificial barriers, that we have created through government regulation or law that don’t give a foreign-born Georgian an equal opportunity to be successful in our state,” shared Rep. Cantrell.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the meeting was the Pursuit of the American Dream in Georgia panel, moderated by the IRC in Atlanta’s Deputy Director of Programs, Ayaz Ahmed, and featuring IRC clients Dr. Riad Sayegh and Joyeuse Muhoza, as well as Jaime Rangel, Immigration Associate at FWD.us. All three panelists made an impression on committee members and attendees with their powerful personal testimony. Jaime—a DACA recipient who came to Georgia with his parents when he was just six months old—calls North Georgia home and was educated in the Georgia public school system. Speaking on his childhood experience, he shared, “I grew up eating tortillas and I grew up eating grits.” Joyeuse—originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo—came to Georgia through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in 2016 shortly before her 18th birthday. Soon after arrival, she realized her dreams of working in the healthcare field would have to wait, and her first job in the U.S. involved long hours in a poultry processing plant. “Like every young woman at that age,” Joy shared, “I had so many dreams... But the American Dream at that time became unreal for me.” As young immigrants, both Jaime and Joy faced barriers with in-state tuition and other steps in their college and career journeys.
“We don’t want special privileges, but I think that everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves. We just need a chance.”
Jaime called on the committee to remove barriers so that the foreign-born population can help address the current labor shortage in our state. "The DACA program has given me a chance to come out of the shadows and prove to the U.S. that I am not a threat,” he shared. “I want to be part of the solution.” For Joy, she considers herself “blessed” that her arrival stateside coincided with the launch of the IRC’s Connect 2 Success program to help out-of-school refugee youth and young adults to pursue their education and career goals. With support from volunteer mentors and IRC academic coaches, Joyeuse is now studying for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree at Chamberlain University and works as an assistant nurse at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. “We don’t want special privileges,” Joy explained. “But I think that everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves. We just need a chance.”
“I’d like to add my small experience to the American experience.”
The third panelist, IRC Career Development client, Dr. Riad Sayegh, had his own dental practice in his home country of Syria for almost 20 years, before his family were forced to flee and leave everything behind. Despite having an M.D. in Dentistry from the University of Aleppo, Dr. Sayegh had to start from scratch after being resettled in Georgia through the refugee program and enrolled at Georgia Piedmont Technical College to improve his English and earn his GED. Since then, he has held various positions as a dental assistant or pharmacy technician, however he laments the fact that he can’t work as a dentist—his true calling—due to licensing restrictions. “There are more than 20 counties in Georgia that do not have a dentist,” Dr. Sayegh shared. “It’s sad for me to move from one job to another... I’d like to add my small experience to the American experience.”
Representative Angelika Kausche (D-Johns Creek)—herself an immigrant from Germany—was among many of the committee members who shared their own families’ varied immigration stories at the event. Rep. Kausche acknowledged how different the immigrant experience can be for new Georgians, depending on their immigration status and the countries they come from. “I came here the privileged way, on a company sponsored visa,” she shared. Addressing the panelists, she added, “We have to emphasize that you deserve as much support as any other person.”
The next meeting of the Georgia House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent will take place on September 9 at Dalton State University.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or 678-636-8941.