National job fair makes stop in Aurora to help Afghan, Ukrainian refugees find a fresh start

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Ahmad Siddiqi (right) speaks with Tito Torres, who works with React DC, as Siddiqi looks for work at a Welcome.US job fair for people who’ve recently resettled to Colorado from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Oct. 22, 2022.

Ahmad Siddiqi knows the difficulties of coming to the United States and looking for a job. 

The Afghan refugee and his family moved to Broomfield after the Taliban captured Kabul in 2021. Siddiqi was unemployed for a very long period because of documents and other issues.

“Recently, I have a job. But, I'm not a person who would stop. I have bigger dreams and I want to continue,” Siddiqi said.

Siddiqi, who spent two decades as an interpreter for American soldiers and high-ranking diplomats, hoped to fulfill those dreams at a job fair at Aurora Community College for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in metro Denver who are new to the United States.

The Denver career fair is the fifth in a series hosted by Welcome.US, a national initiative supporting Afghan and Ukrainian refugees fleeing turmoil in their respective countries, and REACT DC, which supports refugees through job placement and sponsorships. 

Twenty-eight employers were on-hand to accept applications and conduct interviews for entry-level and low-level positions.  A resume workshop and translators were made available for assistance.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Ahmad Siddiqi (left) chats with April Miller, a representative of Hyatt Regency hotels, during a Welcome.US job fair for people who've recently resettled to Colorado from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Oct. 22, 2022.

United Airlines was one of those employers in attendance. Denver’s largest air carrier offered positions in customer service, project management, administrative roles and analysis.

“United is super focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. And that is absolutely a part of our everyday world,” said United Airlines talent acquisition manager Ed Eget.

“We certainly would like to have employees from every walk of life. Our CEO, Scott Kirby, is on the board. That helps welcome us to support the Afghans from early on and we really do want to do our best to hire as many as we possibly can.”

Some employers like Extended Stay America made hires on the spot.

“My company has been following this movement, and we have had several job fairs throughout the U.S. I couldn't tell you exactly how many people we hired, but it's in the hundreds,” said Adrian Stroescu, regional vice president of operations at Extended Stay America. "We have a very diverse group of people. As a matter of fact, we brought with us several Afghanis that we hired in the past not related to the job fair. They're sitting right with us at our table. And, that's been a little bit of an advantage that we have had by having these guys and to be able to talk about their experience with us.”

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Ahmad Siddiqi (right) shakes hands with Michael Allen, an engagement specialist with Amazon, during a Welcome.US job fair for people who've recently resettled to Colorado from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Oct. 22, 2022.

The fair was perfect timing for Ukrainian refugee Yevheniya Karkina. She and her family fled the country during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Karkin had just received her work permit after a long process. The fair gave her hope of regaining employment.

“I was very happy when I heard about this event,” said the mother of one. “They can help me organize my resume. I can find and meet some people who are knowledgeable, who can advise me on which sphere, which direction I need to take to receive a job.”

Karkina’s husband is still waiting for a work permit. He was a restaurant owner and chef when the family left Ukraine. Karkina worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She said she would eventually like to return to her field of expertise.

“I used to work in the legal sphere, social support. I worked to domestic violence, human trafficking projects," Karkina said. "So if I could find here a job that can help people maintain peace and not be violated like any kind of abuse, I would be very happy."

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A resume clinic is visitors' first stop at a Welcome.US job fair for people who've recently resettled to Colorado from Ukraine and Afghanistan, held at the Community College of Aurora. Oct. 22, 2022.

Siddiqi wants to go into management. But, he didn’t find it at the job fair. He said most employers told him that he was overqualified for the positions that they offered. To him, it’s all part of the process.

“For me, I [am] used to it now,” Siddiqi said. “They will look at my resume if they have any comment.”

If anything, Siddiqi is happy for his community. 

“I saw so many people with a lot of happy faces going around these tables and getting good news, getting accepted, getting promised, and at least getting different flyers that they will have a second or third interview. That opens a lot of gates or windows for my people to be here.”