TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Every day, while his nephews watch television and niece chats with friends online, Prithi Rai scours the classifieds.
He and his brother, Man Bahadur Rai, started looking for jobs shortly after arriving in Twin Falls from a Nepali refugee camp May 5. Though they speak English fluently, they are having a hard time finding positions that don't require prior experience, education or special certifications.
Man and Prithi have been on only two interviews each, both set up by the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center. They want more.
"We're very concerned about jobs," Man said.
The U.S. resettlement program pays living expenses for newcomers' first months, but it's set up to make refugees independent of public assistance within three to four months of arrival. While the refugee center says there are entry-level positions available in Magic Valley, many refugees are claiming difficulty finding those jobs.
And with a national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, some Twin Falls residents are wary about bringing in refugees who need jobs and public assistance.
Though many Americans are struggling to find jobs, Ron Black, director of the CSI Refugee Center, said positions paying $7.25 to $8.25 are available here. "It's just, are you willing to work to get the job?"
Typical finds for new refugees: stocking retail shelves, manning a production line at a potato-processing plant, cleaning bathrooms at hotels.
The refugee center has placed 125 refugees in their first jobs since the fiscal year started on Oct. 1, Black said, and that doesn't include second or third jobs the center has helped some find. Many of those start as part-time or temporary positions, but if the refugee impresses managers, he or she often gets hired full-time.
Jobs were easier to find before the economic downturn, Black admitted. Five years ago, the refugee center could place applicants in jobs almost immediately. Now it takes four or five interviews to find a job.
"It is going to be more challenging and they are going to go through more interviews and they are going to have a little bit more frustration," Black said.
Among Twin Falls' newcomers are Bhutanese refugees — ethnic Nepalis who fled Bhutan in the early 1990s and spent nearly two decades in Nepali refugee camps. According to the Bhutanese American Society of Twin Falls, more than 300 Bhutanese refugees have settled in Magic Valley since the first arrived in 2008.
Some of Twin Falls' Bhutanese refugees have the equivalent of master's degrees, while others have never set foot in a classroom.
Most refugees from Bhutan are willing to work whatever jobs are available, Black said, but even the eager face challenges. Many come to Twin Falls with negligible work experience, education or English, and even those with marketable skills need an adjustment period after arriving in the United States.
Many Bhutanese refugees didn't work during the 20 years that they spent in Nepali camps. Some have never held jobs. Going from sitting idly for two decades to working 40-hour weeks is a huge adjustment that many aren't immediately ready for, Black said.
But Man's 20-year-old daughter, Tirtha Rai, got a job at American Inn after about a month in Twin Falls. She initially struggled with making the large beds and remembering how many towels go in the bathrooms, but she learned quickly.
"At first it was quite hard, but now it is easy," Tirtha said.
It's not her dream job — she wants to go to nursing school someday — but for now, she said, "I need it."
For many refugees from various countries, following etiquette and rules can be difficult, too. Some show up to interviews in inappropriate clothes like flip-flops, despite the refugee center's coaching. Others clam up during interviews, even if they know English, Black said.
Once they are placed, "the biggest problem we're having is a lot of them are not sticking with the job," he said.
Some quit after a short time because they don't like the hours or assigned tasks. The problem is especially acute with refugees who have higher educations and have never done manual labor.
In addition to the refugee center job coordinators setting up job interviews, they also encourage refugees to look for jobs themselves.
Prithi and Man have tried, but "we do not have the knowledge of where the job openings are," Prithi said. Man was so desperate to get a job that he put in an application at a company in Idaho Falls without realizing how far the commute would be.
The two interviews set up by the refugee center "is not enough for us," Prithi said. He wonders: Why couldn't the center send him on 10 or 20 interviews?
Though Man and Prithi were stipend-paid health care volunteers in Nepal, they said they are willing to do whatever tasks are necessary. After all, Prithi said, "USA stands for 'you started again.'"
Bikash and Subash Darjee agreed. The brothers arrived in Twin Falls with their mother, Menuka Darjee, from Nepal's Khudunabari refugee camp on June 23. Menuka's brother, Dil Darjee, resettled in Twin Falls about 2 1/2 years ago and saved enough money from his Walmart job to buy a house this summer — the first home owned by a Bhutanese refugee in Twin Falls. Dil also supplemented his sister's apartment with a television and electric fans.
Bikash and Subash hope to be as successful as their uncle. Dil helped them set up interviews at Walmart, and the refugee center took them to interviews at WinCo Foods. When Bikash called Walmart to follow up on his application, he learned he had filled it out wrong — he needed to add references and previous work experience.
Like Man and Prithi, Bikash wants to apply elsewhere, but isn't sure where to go.
As they wait for calls back, Bikash, 28, and Subash, 30, have spent their first weeks in Idaho watching television, going to English classes and riding bikes to their uncle's house. They are happy to be in Twin Falls, they said, but are anxious to get jobs to alleviate boredom.
"We just idly stay here," Bikash said.
Chandra Pokhrel got a job at Holiday Inn Express three months after arriving in Twin Falls in spring 2010. His brother, Nar Pokhrel, arrived from Nepal's Beldangi IIcamp on May 5 and is still looking for a job.1 comment on this story
Though Nar understands English, he's reluctant to speak it; no interview so far has yielded an offer. In late July, he moved from Chandra's apartment to live with his mother, who broke her hip and needs help getting around the house. His preteen son, Nishal, continues to live with Chandra.
Chandra makes $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage, and works full time. His paychecks pay for utility and phone bills, rent, car insurance and loan repayments for his family's plane tickets to the United States. He has health insurance through work, and his three children are insured by Medicaid. His wife, Ganga, is uninsured and stays at home with the couple's three children and Nishal.
Though Chandra's job search was successful, he says his family wouldn't survive without food stamps. "If there is no food stamp, it is impossible."
His next goal: a raise.