Jewish Family & Career Services

Refugees, Immigrants and COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact communities across the country as individuals face health concerns, furloughs and unemployment. But according to Kristina Mielke, Career & Employment Specialist at JFCS, refugees and immigrants have been among the hardest hit and face unique challenges from the crisis.

Mielke has worked with refugees and immigrants for the past 12 years and is one of the leading regional experts in re-credentialing, re-certification, employment and career counseling. JFCS has 112 clients in its career program for refugees and immigrants. It is designed to help these foreign-born neighbors return to careers they had in their previous country or to help them find new career paths in the United States.

Mielke was recently featured on a webinar with the Louisville Metro Office of Globalization. You can watch the full presentation on Re-Certifications and Re-Credentialing here.

In a Q&A, Mielke discussed how the COVID-19 crisis specifically impacts refugee and immigrant communities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How is this crisis impacting JFCS’s refugee and immigrant clients and the work you do with them?

A lot of clients who have been laid off are wanting to use this time to get ahead, because all of the clients in the program are working as they’re also trying to look for another job, or they’re trying to take re-credentialing boards. So, they are thinking “I have all this time off, I really want to get a head start on what my next step is going to be.” Unfortunately, a lot of the same organizations that we use to help them with all of these steps are closed. So our clients are kind of at a stalemate.

Then we also have immigrants, specifically, who are very scared about the public charge rule. I can say immigrants and refugees, because even though refugees are excluded from the public charge, there’s still a lot of fear within the immigrant communities overall about using public benefits. Many in this community have been laid off; many of them have been furloughed. First, they’re scared to take advantage of unemployment benefits because there hasn’t been a very a clear message that tells people, “Regardless of your immigration status, everybody is eligible for unemployment insurance if you lost your job because of this crisis.” So, there have been a lot of fears about that.

Then fears about needing to use food stamps or needing to go onto KTAP because they don’t really know how long this could last. In general, people are very afraid that this crisis is going to affect them a lot longer. Even their immigration status, their future in this country, they’re really worried about if they’re going to be able to stay or not.

Q: Are there specific things you’re doing when you’re communicating with clients to try and help dispel some of those fears?

I have taken screenshots of a lot of the jargon that’s going into the Families Act (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) where it specifically says that any person with a social security number who loses their job would be eligible for unemployment insurance.

It’s coordinating a lot of outside resources, and either having it translated into their language or sitting with them on the phone to talk to them about what that means for themselves and their families.

Q: For people who don’t follow immigrant and refugee stories year-round, what would you want someone to know about what those communities are facing now?

Immigrants and refugees are among the hardest hit by a crisis like this. They are among the hardest hit in that many of them are still deemed essential workers because they work in factories that are making or supplying the essentials that the government has deemed necessary. They are among the most vulnerable populations, least likely to take advantage of any benefits that the government is giving at this time, and they’re also among the most exposed to the virus itself.

Q: What are some concerns in the long term? Obviously, there’s the immediate impact of this crisis, but are there things looking a few months from now or a year from now that you’re worried about?

One of the biggest worries for me is a lot of clients are experiencing some kind of PTSD. For many of our refugees, specifically people from the Congo and Cuba, this kind of crisis can be very triggering for them. I can also say that any refugee here is coming from a place of scarcity. So, when they go to the supermarket, and they can’t find anything, that can really bring them back to living in camp and having to depend on people from the UNHRCWorld Health Organization, or the World Food Program, to bring them food. So, that can be triggering. Then for those who have lived through epidemics and pandemics before, it can also be very difficult.

To learn more about services available at JFCS, contact or 502-452-6341 x 120.