• Advance self-sufficiency and wealth-building among immigrants and refugees to generate growth for the region through promoting workplace rights, better quality jobs, financial literacy, skills training, expanding entrepreneurship and inclusive hiring and contracting.

  • Attract investment to San Diego and expand the global market opportunities of homegrown companies by leveraging the skills, cultural knowledge and homeland connections of international students, immigrant and refugee communities.

Background and Community Input

In 2016, foreign-born residents in San Diego contributed $54.3 billion to the county’s gross domestic product (GDP) or 25.2 percent of all GDP. Furthermore, although San Diego’s foreign-born population made up 24.1 percent of the county’s overall population, they represented 28.4 percent of the county’s employed labor force, and 32.7 percent of the entrepreneurs. This translated into 62,299 immigrant entrepreneurs generating $1.4 billion in business income for the county.

62,299 immigrant entrepreneurs generated
in business income for the county.

Still, obstacles prevent many immigrants and refugees from finding a home and comfortably settling upon arrival, limiting their employment options and hindering their entrepreneurial efforts. Often, the visa status of immigrants restricts their ability to work. Those who are able and willing to work do not always have access to, and employers often do not invest in, the appropriate portals for their skills and education. For example, there was an exodus of immigrant workers during the Great Recession in the construction industry, despite the ability of union apprentice programs to scale up to meet the growing needs of contractors. There are great opportunities to create partnerships to upskill immigrants and refugees to fill jobs in these key industries.

Through the community forums, immigrants, refugees and U.S.-born community members coincided on the desire to be economically self-sufficient, which requires financial literacy, full-time employment opportunities offering a living wage plus benefits and the pathway toward homeownership. However the challenges of finding employment or job training, and the high costs of living that immigrant and native-born communities alike face, significantly impede those dreams. Immigrants are also disproportionately concentrated in low-wage service sectors such as in hospitality and retail, and live in poverty; those in industries such as construction also confront hazardous and unsafe conditions. Overall, there was also an imminent fear of deportation among mixed-status households and individuals with tenuous status and not being accepted as part of the community they now call home.

The community forums also collected ideas on programs and strategies to remove the barriers immigrants encounter, to create economic opportunity for all and to further promote a sense of belonging by helping immigrants and refugees achieve their dreams.


5. Facilitate career advancement of immigrants through job placement, rights protection, inclusive recruitment, upskilling and re-credentialing.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Partner with local employers, labor unions, community colleges and immigrant-serving organizations to accelerate training, apprenticeships, credentialing and certification processes for foreign-trained professionals. 7

B. Provide incentives and support to businesses to hire immigrants and other individuals with barriers to employment such as people with disabilities or prior convictions via the  Economic Development Department and ensure that businesses are utilizing incumbent-worker training funds for upskilling their workforce.8

C. Deepen partnerships between local employers, labor unions and immigrant-serving organizations to expand connector programs and job training programs that connect individuals to immediate-hire job opportunities, matches talent with established professionals and ladders toward middle-skill jobs.9

D. Ensure local Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA) planning processes and forums on Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Community Service Block Grants (CSBG) are inclusive of immigrant San Diegans and are investing in English learners, low-income workers and immigrant-serving CBOs.10

E. Analyze public workforce program data to improve understanding of outreach effectiveness, outcomes and roadblocks for immigrant workers, and share lessons learned with workforce training providers and immigrant advocates to facilitate continued improvement.

F. Identify opportunities to strengthen investments in vocational and technical English language classes and mentorship by supplementing or building on existing offerings in the adult education and higher education systems, apprenticeship programs and day laborer centers.11

G. Educate employers about workers’ rights and the economic benefits of inclusive hiring and retention practices through union contracts or hiring halls.12

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

H. Expand and deepen partnerships between community colleges, labor unions and local employers to identify future industry needs and offer education, training and career bridge programs that enhance literacy and numeracy skills, technical skills and career coaching.

I. Invest in wrap-around support services such as childcare, transportation and living stipends for immigrants and refugees to participate in workforce training and education programs.13

J. Invest in proven strategies that can help more immigrant adults to upskill, such as Integrated Education and Training approaches offered through nonprofit organizations and community colleges.14

K. Support collective bargaining rights for immigrants through contract negotiations, social safety ladder campaigns and smart justice initiatives in order to ensure fair workplace standards and quality jobs and require employers benefiting from public investment to pay living wages and provide health benefits.15

L. Create a municipal fellowship program (two to six months paid internships) to provide opportunities for immigrants with foreign credentials, opportunity youth and other adults with skill gaps to gain valuable work experience.16

M. Create pay-for-success finance mechanism to increase vocational ESOL and career pathways programming by leveraging government financing (social impact bonds), private capital (impact investors) and best practices (NGOs).17

N. Promote and/or support legislation that recognizes and re-certifies foreign credentials that address industry-specific needs and talent shortages.18

O. Create partnerships between economic development organizations, immigration lawyers and universities to better retain immigrant and international students with postsecondary and advanced degrees by training employers on recruiting global talent, and by providing immigration, cross-cultural and career resources to students.19

6. Promote immigrant entrepreneurship and support immigrant-owned businesses.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Expand workshops to provide navigation and hands-on support services to immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs, such as business planning, validation, bringing businesses from idea to implementation, access to capital, legal compliance, intellectual property and marketing through collaboration between small business development centers and immigrant-serving organizations.

B. Develop a database of immigrant-owned small- and medium-enterprise (SMEs) in the region to quantify the impact, attract investment, facilitate business-to-business partnerships, expand import/export capacity and reach diversity procurement goals of large-scale and public institutional buyers of goods and services.

C. Establish start-up and SME growth funds and community-based financing options that provide capital for immigrant entrepreneurs through partnerships between local financial institutions and existing City and county revolving loan programs. 21

D. Educate immigrant workers on California SB1159, which allows individuals to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security Number to apply for an occupational license – an important tool for entrepreneurs or independent contractors.

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

E. Launch business incubator and/or accelerator for foreign-born entrepreneurs and work with planners, commissions and local business improvement districts to expand “international/cultural corridors” and start-up rows to create place-making opportunities, stimulate immigrant businesses and expand multicultural products and services on main streets.22

F. Expand the existing investment via Economic Development that offer training and technical assistance for microenterprises in immigrant communities; monitor and ensure proper investments to areas of San Diego that have been designated as Opportunity Zones by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

G. Create a roundtable for business-to-business mentorship for immigrant business owners to understand the San Diego market and best practices, develop employment referral pathways and connect legal and financial services for entrepreneurs.23

H. Identify a local university partner as the anchor for Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence (Global EIR) program to retain skilled immigrants and international graduates of San Diego’s universities and generate regional economic growth and create jobs.24

I. Prioritize immigrant- and refugee-owned (along with minority-, women- and LGBT-owned) small businesses for contracting opportunities for city and county business and projects.

7. Promote financial literacy among newcomer communities.

Short-Term Strategies:

A. Expand educational opportunities for newcomers, such as seminars, radio shows and mentorship programs on financial literacy – from filing taxes to sending remittances safely, to saving for education and homeownership, to applying for loans.25

B. Partner with high school teachers and adult basic education and ESOL instructors to add personal finance lessons or courses to the curriculum.

C. Expand educational and legal assistance for entrepreneurs and small-business owners to build credit, conduct business planning and secure insurance and other business needs.26

Long-Term Strategies:

D. Continue partnerships between community-based organizations, financial institutions and public agencies to offer free checking accounts for those who are unbanked, to educate immigrants to avoid high-risk lenders and to facilitate wealth-building and asset protection for low- to moderate- income families.27

8. Ensure housing stability and reduce barriers toward homeownership.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Design and implement an outreach plan to guide new residents about existing home buyer resources and programs and homeowner and renters’ rights and responsibilities.

B. Utilize Individual Development Accounts through existing federal programs or credit unions to provide assistance in securing utilities, build credit, save toward homeownership and access sound homeownership counseling.

C. Ensure immigrant tenants are protected from deportation threats and prevent landlords from taking any action based on the immigration status of a tenant, prospective tenant or occupant, in compliance with California AB291 (Immigrant Tenant Protection Act) and California AB299 (Hiring of real property: immigration or citizenship status).

D. Provide incentives to landlords granting leases to new immigrant and refugee residents.

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

D. Integrate factors such as immigrants’ residential patterns, spatial integration, business corridors, distance to jobs and cultural resources in decision-making processes regarding planning, land use, housing and mobility decision.

Local example: San Diego Welcome Back Center International Health Worker Assistance Center (/
Best Practice: Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership Pre-Lean ESOL (
Best Practice: Halifax Partnership Connector Program (
10 Guide: California Nonprofits and the Public Workforce System: How CBOs Can Make Their Voices Heard in the WIOA Planning Process, IRC
11 Best Practice: National Day Laborer Organizing Network & Pasadena City College (
12  Best Practice: Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (
13  Guide: Broadening the Apprenticeship Pipeline by Providing Childcare and Work-based Learning (
14 Guide: Policy Toolkit on Integrated Education and Training, National Skills Coalition: (
15Local Example: SEIU Local 221(
16 Best Practice: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians’ International Professional Program (
17 Best Practice: Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement (
18 Guide: Linking Innovation With Inclusion: Demography, Equity, and the Future of San Diego, USC (
19 Best Practice: Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan (
20 Local Example: IRC Center for Financial Oportunity: (
21 Best Practice: Finata lending circles, loans and technical assistance (
22 Guide: Welcoming Economies Playbook: Strategies for Building an Inclusive Local Economy (
23 Local Example: International Rescue Committee’s microenterprise programs (
24 Best Practice: Global Entrepreneur in Residence locations (
25 Guide: Financial Literacy Programs for Immigrants, National League of Cities (
26 Local Example: San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program, Inc. – Microbusiness and Nonprofit Support Program (
27 Best Practice: National League of Cities’ Bank of Cities Campaign (