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Real Solutions for Refugees: Professional Group Study

San Diego County Library
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Innovation Summary

San Diego County Library worked with other governmental agencies to make better use of finite services, at the same time jumpstarting educational and career opportunities for recent refugees who need to build new lives for themselves and their families.

Problem Statement

New refugees to the United States are granted federal protection after fleeing life-threatening persecution in their homelands. All are overcoming tremendous personal challenges, and are given welfare benefits for a short time in return for taking work-preparation classes. Most must take English Language Learning courses to improve English proficiency and qualify for employment. But many highly-educated refugees are already fluent in English. To qualify for benefits, they are compelled to take languages classes, leaving many other non-English speakers without a seat in a class, desperate to learn English and qualify for assistance.


El Cajon Library, home to the 2nd largest Iraqi population in the United States, worked with County partner Health and Human Services Agency and its Welfare-to-Work contractor to create the Professional Group Study (PGS) in mid-2010. San Diego County Library identified an opportunity to engineer a win-win program and bridge an important gap. Instead of taking up valuable space in classes they don't need, Professional Group Study has given more than 60 physicians, engineers, architects, dentists, veterinarians, and other professionals an opportunity to exchange class time for time spent in the library, studying and working toward U.S. licensing exams.


Our new refugees come to San Diego County Library anxious to work hard for a better life. Several participants have recently earned their U.S. engineering licenses. Even though professionals with refugee status are generally at the bottom of the list for medical residency admissions, four PGS participants have recently been admitted to medical residency programs in the U.S. One refugee who earned a residency shared the story of his harrowing journey to safety and prosperity: he and his family escaped from Iraq under cover of darkness after he was forced at gunpoint to close his medical clinic. They fled to Syria, where they waited for two years for refugee status to immigrate to the United States.  SDCL is currently expanding this program to several other community libraries.