For refugees in Northern Virginia, the American Dream is fast becoming a fairy tale. Not only are funds for job retraining programs quickly drying up, but local officials dealing with the problem say there are few jobs to be had.
"We hear from Voice of America that America has facilities to educate us to American ways and employ us," said 29-year-old Durani Nasir, who came to Falls Church from Afghanistan a year ago. "But we are having difficulties. We have a group of lawyers cleaning houses because we cannot get enough funds to teach them English."
Nasir is one of the lucky ones. He found a job with the State of Virginia representing fellow Afghan refugees.
In Northern Virginia, however, local officials report hundreds of other refugees crowding into local assistance and employment offices, with little hope of a job or help.
The reasons, officials say, are simple: dwindling funds for state and federal jobs programs and a tight job market.
"We have a good 150 refugees on our waiting list for job training programs , all eligible and in need, but we just don't have the money to help them," said Gary Post, director of a federal jobs program in Alexandria. "Many of these refugees are not only unemployed, they're unemployable."
As local officials try to work with increasingly scarce resources, they have come up with a variety of solutions to provide refugees with some source of income.
In Alexandria, for example, the federal jobs office has helped a group of Indochinese and Afghan women put together an art show of their native crafts. With the help of a local gallery, the women hope to sell the works, and eventually set up a cottage industry so they can sell the works to retail outlets.
But many local officials concede that the solutions are only stopgap measures.
"We have to come up with more and better ideas," said Post. "The numbers [of refugees] are increasing."
It is difficult to get an estimate of the refugee community in Northern Virginia, although most officials agree that about 9,000 refugees are among the unemployed in the area. The bulk of the refugees are from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, and officials say there is a new influx from Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
Post directs programs under the new federal Job Training Partnership Act, approved by Congress last week to replace the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).
Although officials aren't sure yet how much money Congress will allocate to the new program, if the trend follows that of CETA funding, it will be a lean budget.
CETA funding in Alexandria, Post said, has dropped from from $3.6 million in 1979 to $2.1 million in 1981 to an expected $800,000 for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. In 1981, a peak year, Post said, his office assisted 1,476 people, 310 of them refugees. This year, he expects to aid 212 people, including 90 refugees.
"We used to have a real Chinese menu of training programs," Post said, "but we've cut it and cut it again."
Originally, CETA helped pay salaries for some workers in the public sector and provided job training for work in private business. Last year, the job subsidy was cut and CETA became a training program only. In its new incarnation, the Job Training Partnership Act puts more emphasis on training for the private sector. Funding for the program has not yet been set by Congress.
The rapidly dwindling funds have forced local officials to take a hard look at what could be done with those increasingly scarce resources.
In Alexandria, for example, local officials decided to take a different approach to finding jobs for the many refugees lining up at their offices.
"Instead of calling around and saying this is what we have," Post said, "we've been calling and asking what do you need."
The answer, in Alexandria at least, was hotel and motel jobs.
To meet that need, Alexandria officials quickly set up a streamlined English classes for refugees. Instead of several months-long classes to give students a solid command of English, the Job Training program now offers a series of six-week courses with one goal: teaching students all the phrases needed to work in a hotel.
It is mini-Berlitz, as groups of about 25 students repeat the phrases after the instructor.
"What is your room number?" the students ask in unison.
They also practice carrying trays of dishes and making beds.
"We make it simple and keep it short," said Post. "It's basically a hotel survival course."
The experience in Alexandria is being repeated throughout Northern Virginia.
In Arlington, officials expect $900,000 for the federal jobs program this year, down from $1.4 million last year, said Joseph Gordon, director of Arlington's CETA program, forcing them to eliminate many training programs.
But the county has tried to avoid reducing the number of people it helps.
"We help more people with less," said Gordon. Last year, the county enrolled 285 Asian refugees and 128 Hispanics in training programs. About 65 of the Asians were placed in jobs, Gordon said, compared with a 58 percent rate for all CETA trainees.
"They refugees are known to be diligent, hard workers," he said. "Their problem is their lack of English and cultural barriers."
Fairfax and Loudoun counties, which operate a joint CETA program, also have had budget cuts--from $2.9 million last year to an expected $1.3 million this year. But officials say they planned ahead for the cuts and are in a good position to help the estimated 700 to 800 refugees who have applied for CETA assistance.
"We've had to cut back on the stipends, day care and transportation, but we still have a strong program that assesses workers and directs them to the jobs they are right for," said Sue Manzo, director of the Loudoun-Fairfax office.
As in other local jurisdications, Loudoun-Fairfax CETA officials have had to look for ways to streamline their jobs programs. The answer in Loudoun and Fairfax has been an Assessment Center set up last year with $50,000 in CETA funds.
At the center, all CETA trainees undergo two weeks of testing before being enrolled in any program or sent to any job interview. The tests evaluate the trainees' command of English, their endurance to work on assembly lines, their abilities to answer phones, type, weld and do a variety of other skills.
"We see what they're good at and what they like to do," said Manzo. "We can place them in jobs based on the skills they've demonstrated at the center or train them in a skill we already know they're good at."
For refugees, the cutbacks in programs and the stiff competition for jobs has made life in America a frustrating experience at best.
Hashem and Nassima Hassani came to America from Afghanistan this spring. He is a civil engineer and she is a chemical engineer. In Alexandria, Hashem drives a cab and Nassima works at a local shoe store whenever a regular employe calls in sick.
"It is difficult, really, really difficult for me to find a job," said Nassima, 35, in broken English. "My husband, he speaks English good, he worked in America. He sometimes has applications and interviews -- but nothing."
Nassima, who is from Kabul, said she applied for a CETA-sponsored English class but was told she speaks English too well. The class is reserved for those who speak no English.
"We like America," she said quickly, after listing the troubles she and her 40-year-old husband have faced since coming here. "It is very difficult to work. We are glad to be here still."