January 26, 2021

Collaborative for New Immigrant Education Launched to Assist Highly-Skilled Refugees in Enhancing Their English Language Skills

NYU School of Professional Studies English Language Institute, NYU Silver School of Social Work, and RIF Asylum Support Unite in a Research-Practice Collaboration to Ensure that Underemployed and Underserved Refugees in the City Have Equal Opportunity in Competitive Job Markets

New York, NY, January 26, 2021—In a political and social climate that often portrays refugees as being a drain on the American economy and society at large—with New York City often being singled out—a little-known phenomenon that counters this misconception has been brought to light and acted upon. The City is home to a substantial population of highly-skilled and underserved asylum seekers, asylees, and resettled refugees who have come here to start life anew. Many hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, and have enjoyed successful careers in their home countries. Although these highly-skilled immigrants have a unique potential to progress in their lives and careers, as well as to contribute to the City’s and the country’s economy, this potential is often untapped because of skill underutilization and because of their struggle to express and assert themselves in English. According to a Center for an Urban Future report, English for Speakers of Other Languages programs in New York City serve less than 2% of nearly 2 million immigrant New Yorkers, with this highly-skilled group among them. The recently launched Collaborative for New Immigrant Education addresses this glaring gap in services, and the story of its formation illustrates the ways in which institutions of higher education and grassroots organizations can combine forces to create meaningful change.

Robyn Vaccara, who is a clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Professional Studies, English Language Institute (ELI), has long been dedicated to social justice for the often marginalized and underserved population of immigrants and refugees in New York City. Approximately five years ago, as director of the ELI, she saw a path to expanding ELI’s service to the community of underserved refugees. She and a small team of faculty members researched the need for English language training within these populations and found that the demand for these types of services was even greater than expected. The group realized, however, that in order to have a true impact, they would need to develop ongoing relationships with these communities. They invited input from colleagues at the NYU Silver School of Social Work and RIF Asylum Support with expertise in policies and programs serving immigrant communities. Consequently, a meeting was held with refugee community leaders, who were greatly enthusiastic. This vote of confidence helped shape the development of the Collaborative for New Immigrant Education (CNIE).
The Collaborative for New Immigrant Education has established an innovative model for community-engaged programming and research. In a novel research-practice collaboration, the English Language Institute at the NYU School of Professional Studies and the NYU Silver School of Social Work work with RIF Asylum Support and its affiliated NYC community-based and grassroots refugee groups. Members of the CNIE Advisory Committee, consisting of CNIE students, a RIF education advisor, Silver School researchers, and ELI faculty members, combine their efforts to perform outreach, create programming, and conduct research.

In Fall 2020, the CNIE celebrated its first anniversary, welcoming its fourth cohort of students. During its inaugural year, the CNIE has served a diverse population of highly-skilled and underemployed recent refugees. Of the more than 200 refugees who applied and were tested to participate in CNIE programming, 65 were enrolled with an average of 16 students per cohort. Leading countries of origin of CNIE students include Venezuela and Russia, followed by Kyrgyzstan, Jamaica, Nigeria, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Haiti, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Belarus, India, Kazakhstan, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Ukraine. While all CNIE students had a higher education degree and professional work experience, the majority had a total household income falling below the NYC median income of $60,762. It is this disadvantage that the CNIE hopes to erase by improving language competency.

“Our mission is to provide underemployed and underserved refugees in New York City with access to the advanced language instruction and support services they need to gain critical communication skills and reach their professional goals,” asserted Vaccara. “The CNIE serves as a model for how institutions of higher education nationwide can partner with local communities to provide the rich resources that the university has to offer and to help ensure equal opportunity for refugees in the United States,” she concluded.

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