A Refugee’s Story: Meet Zinah

A refguee from Iraq, Zinah arrived in Dallas with her family in November, 2016

Like many college graduates, Zinah went through a rigorous interview and testing process to land her first job when she graduated from the University of Baghdad with a bachelor’s degree in statistics. She was thrilled to be offered a competitive position in human resources at the biggest telecom company in Iraq, and she quickly made an impression on those around her as she began to work her way up. But her career aspirations were cut short in 2006, when the war intensified and Zinah’s family was forced to flee Iraq in search of a more stable life abroad.

This was difficult for everyone in Zinah’s family. Not only were they leaving behind friends and loved ones for an unfamiliar place, but they were also giving up successful careers in engineering, architecture, and linguistics. For Zinah, this meant saying goodbye to a future climbing the ranks at her dream job.

“I wanted to have a secure job, fulfill my career path and add value to my life,” Zinah said. “But this was one of the sacrifices we had to make.”

Zinah and her parents

Zinah and her family sought refuge in Amman, Jordan. Yearning for a stable, permanent place to call home, they applied for resettlement in the U.S. While they waited for a decision on their case, they immigrated to Oman.

Yet Zinah’s determination and drive remained strong. While in Oman, Zinah pursued her master’s degree in business administration and started rebuilding her career in HR by working as the youngest and only female manager at a global transportation and logistics company.

Zinah’s family had been living in Oman for nearly nine years when they received a call from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — their application for resettlement had finally been accepted and they were due to leave for the U.S. in November, 2016. For Zinah and her family, the moment was bittersweet.

“After we had been chosen to travel to the United States as refugees, we were brought in for an interview and had to explain why we left Iraq, why it’s not safe for us to go back, and provide evidence,” Zinah recalled. “We had to relive the bad experiences we faced in our country. It brought a flashback of bad memories.”

To make matters worse, while Zinah, her parents and two sisters were approved to travel to Dallas, her brother, a network engineer, had not yet been approved. Instead, he was forced to stay behind in Oman to await an update on his resettlement application with USCIS. This marked the first time in Zinah’s life that her family would be separated.

“The saddest sacrifice we had to make was leaving my brother behind,” Zinah said. “We are a very bonded family. When we leave a country, we leave together. When we live, we live together.”

Zinah’s brother currently remains in Oman, waiting on an update to his application.

Zinah and her family, all together

Upon arriving in Dallas, Zinah was excited about the prospect of continuing her career in HR. But securing a job in the U.S. was more difficult than she had initially thought. Although she had the education and skills needed for her desired field, many employers did not recognize her international job experience. And then she found Upwardly Global.

Coaches at Upwardly Global worked with Zinah to revise her resume, practice job interview skills, and tap into the networks she needed to successfully participate in the American job search process. With her new skills in hand, Zinah landed her first professional job in the U.S. as an HR analyst at Reddy Ice, the largest packaged ice manufacturer in the country. And she is already impressing and forging meaningful relationships with her coworkers.

“When I met Zinah I was very impressed. She was enthusiastic and excited to be part of our team and very aggressive with wanting to get involved with new projects and assignments. There’s no project or assignment that is too small for Zinah or too big for her,” said Angie Wallander, chief administrative officer at Reddy Ice.

“I would highly encourage other employers and senior leaders to evaluate opportunities to get involved with immigrants or refugees. There is a real opportunity to bring diversity and very qualified people that will add a lot of value long-term to your organization,” she said.

Zinah at work at Reddy Ice

This year alone, Upwardly Global has helped nearly 250 refugees like Zinah secure jobs in the U.S. We are helping hundreds more navigate the job search and workforce so that they, too, can find jobs in their desired fields.

“It feels empowering to be a professional woman in the workforce. It gives you the chance to be independent, help your family, and make your vision come true,” said Zinah. “I was lucky to have somebody like UpGlo. If it was not for them, I would not have landed a job in the U.S.”

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Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.