Abiy Demissie shopped for a new life yesterday.
Inside a large banquet room on the George Washington University campus, Demissie, a 32-year-old Ethiopian who has been in the United States for two months, browsed past dozens of tables set up by local employers. He quietly collected information packets about job opportunities, and flashed an eager, nervous smile.
"I'm really searching," he whispered, struggling with his words. "You see, people like me do not know how to get a job over the phone or in the paper. It feels good to come and talk to a person. That is why I came."
Demissie joined more than 200 other immigrants and refugees living in metropolitan Washington yesterday at an all-day job and services information fair held specifically for newcomers to the United States.
More than 35 businesses and service agencies participated in the second annual event, which was sponsored by the Ethiopian and Indochinese community centers along with the D.C. Department of Human Services.
"There's a real need for this kind of thing," said John Cooper, the executive director of the Ethiopian Community Center. "Washington is such a strong magnet for immigrants, and because of the amnesty provisions in the new federal immigration laws, more immigrants and refugess will legally be able to look for jobs this year."
Most of the employers at the fair displayed job opportunities in what is commonly called the nation's service industry, Cooper said. Representatives of hotels, restaurants, university personnel offices and area job placement and educational services lined the tables in the banquet room.
"For a lot of these people, looking in the classified ads for work just doesn't cut it," Cooper said. "Many lack the kinds of skills necessary to job-hunt. They're intelligent, want to work hard, and are often very skilled, but since they come from an entirely different culture, they encounter many barriers in trying to find work."
Susan Cornick, a representative of the D.C. Private Industry Council, said hotels and restaurants are actively recruiting immigrants and refugees for entry-level positions, especially because of the federal government's new amnesty provision, which grants legal residence to illegal aliens who can prove they arrived in the United States before Jan. 1, 1982.
"The jobs are out there, and the people are out there," Cornick said. "But somehow, they do not meet as often as they should, which is why events like these are helpful. You can see the interest and motivation of the people who walk in here. They come with a purpose."
Demissie came wearing a suit. He said he arrived in Washington about a month ago, after being sent to study computer programming in Dayton, Ohio, by the Ethiopian company for which he worked. It was his first visit to the United States, and he said he soon knew he did not want to return home.
Once in Washington, Demissie said he contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service, then a lawyer. He said he expects to receive a work permit in a few weeks.
"I wanted to get an early start," Demissie said as he shuffled through information packets, "and I thought coming to this fair would be a real exciting idea."