The Media School

Bloomington may not have the best job market for international residents

April 18th, 2019 by
Photograph by Cameron Trippel

Hyejin Park, an IU grad student, is concerned that international residents have difficulty finding legal, part-time jobs compared to native residents. She said lingual and cultural differences are the two largest barriers.

Fourth year IU graduate student Hyejin Park, a 37-year-old South Korea native, knows numerous international residents, of multiple ethnicities, but mostly fellow Koreans, who have difficulties finding legal, part-time jobs.

“I think language is maybe the largest barrier, and the second one is maybe culture, like accepted-ness,” she said.

Local officials are concerned about her claims, understand how it can be an issue and are calling upon employers to be more engaging with their hiring communities regardless of ethnicity.

Brian Payne, an assistant director for the city’s Economic and Sustainable Development Department, said while the community tries to make everyone feel equally welcome and embraces multiculturalism, it’s hard to overlook the overwhelmingly dominant demographic – English-speaking Caucasians.

“Indiana has a legal environment that makes it particularly difficult for folks in her position,” he said. “We still have an extremely homogenous demographic in Bloomington and Central Indiana, and almost everyone speaks English as their first language.”

Payne said the problem needs to be addressed by city officials in an attempt “to try to create connections with minority communities.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17 percent of Bloomington’s population is a minority.

Payne thinks the local minority business enterprise program needs to be more engaging and utilized more often.

“We need to do a better job connecting potential entrepreneurs and employers with those resources,” he said.

Alex Crowley, the director of Payne’s department, had similar reactions to his coworker’s, only a bit more disheartened.

Photograph by Cameron Trippel

Brian Payne, assistant director at Bloomington's Economic and Sustainable Development Department, said the Bloomington community tries to make everyone feel equally welcome and embraces multiculturalism. But it's hard to overlook the overwhelmingly dominant demographic, English-speaking Caucasians.

“I’m actually concerned about it,” he said. “People who are qualified to work should be able to compete effectively with anybody else.”

Rather than international residents being viewed as poor communicators by the business community, Crowley said they should be valued for what they can offer that most others cannot.

“They bring cultural diversity, alternative perspectives and global perspectives that may not be the same as the people who grew up here,” he said.

All three agreed Bloomington is recognized as a diverse and progressive community, both politically and socially, and agree it is odd that an issue such as this could arise.

Park thinks it’s mainly the inability of some international residents to relate to employers, even with the simplest aspects of everyday life.

While she admits struggling to relate to aspects of American culture, Park expressed her appreciation for both the United States and Bloomington’s diverse and unrestricting cultures. Compared to her homeland of South Korea, the differences are colossal.

“The biggest difference in Korea, being identical is kind of an issue, everyone wants to be standardized,” she said. “They all want to live in an apartment that’s standard, and they want to wear something that is standard, not very unique. Living in the U.S., you have more freedom.”

Despite applauding America’s freedom, Park is still trying to spread word that she believes it’s far more difficult for international residents to obtain a job in the community, than it is for native residents.

“I see internationals as an asset, and I think that one potential solution would be to really engage the business community and try to figure out what’s going on from that perspective.” – Alex Crowley, director, City of Bloomington Economic and Sustainable Development Department

Other than not fitting into or understanding the culture, Payne said international residents may have negative thoughts associated with them, since the national conversation about undocumented immigrants has been in the news so often over the last several years. He also reinforced his remarks about Indiana’s environment being difficult.

“The state has requirements that say that cities, like Bloomington, have to enroll in an E-Verify program and only work with contractors and other employers that use E-Verify, which is an online system to make sure that none of your employees are undocumented,” he said.

Whether it’s difficulty adapting to the American culture, or the state’s confusing protocols, Payne and Crowley agreed something can and should be done to assist international residents in obtaining a job.

Park suggested more local networking events that appeal to diverse peoples in the area, and not just locals. But clearly, that’s easier said than done.

“Overall, I think it’s a very complicated issue,” she said.

In the future, Crowley said Bloomington should put more time and effort into this issue, because the number of ethnic residents in the area is only going to rise.

“I see internationals as an asset, and I think that one potential solution would be to really engage the business community and try to figure out what’s going on from that perspective,” he said.