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International Institute aims to attract 3,000 Latin American immigrants to St. Louis

The International Institute of St. Louis created the Latino Outreach Program to lure immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The program will connect Latin immigrants to jobs and housing. "The city is decreasing in population and this program could help increase the population and build a diverse workforce," Vice President of the Latino Outreach Program Karlos Ramirez, middle, said.
Andrea Y. Henderson
The International Institute of St. Louis created the Latino Outreach Program to lure immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua who enter the U.S. under a new federal program that grants temporary residency for two years. Program Vice President Karlos Ramirez, center, said it will connect Latin American immigrants to jobs and housing in St. Louis.

The International Institute of St. Louis is launching an effort to attract 3,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans to work in the region by the end of the year.

The Biden administration is allowing immigrants from those countries to enter the U.S. through a program for up to two years if they have a sponsor. The program is expected to grant temporary residency to about 360,000 Latin American immigrants this year.

The institute's Latino Outreach Program aims to help newly arriving immigrants who have resettled in other cities move to St. Louis for jobs, housing and community.

That could increase the city’s population and its workforce, said Karlos Ramirez, vice president of the Latino Outreach Program.

“Particularly for St. Louis, we're losing population, and we need workers,” he said. “So to be able to bring people in … who are here with documentation, I think it's important to be able to lead the way by doing things the right way, giving citizens a pathway to citizenship, and really be able to help bulk up our workforce and our population in the region.”

The outreach program will provide newly arriving Latin American immigrants from the four countries with translation services and help learning English, legal assistance and a cellphone with six months of free data usage. It also will connect people to job training programs, trade unions and other employment opportunities.

Arch Grants founder Jerry Schlichter developed the outreach program’s concept and provided an undisclosed amount of money to launch it.

Ramirez said Latin Americans who come to the U.S. with a strong work ethic could benefit from the program, which aims to develop their skills.

“I think it's going to be able to ideally bring more and more entrepreneurs to the area to be able to grow more and more businesses,” Ramirez said.

Over the next few months, Ramirez plans to travel to other U.S. cities to make new arrivals from the four countries aware of the opportunities in St. Louis before they get settled in another community.

The program will train and connect Latin Americans for jobs in construction, manufacturing and service industries. It will also connect them to employers in the gaming and casino industry.

Many employers across the region call the institute daily looking for candidates to diversify their workforce, President Arrey Obenson said.

“Whether they have family or not, they'll go to where opportunities are created for them, and that's what we're trying to do is create opportunity here in St. Louis,” Obenson said.

The institute will help Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Haitians who come to the U.S. under the program apply for employment authorizations and extensions on their temporary stays and deal with any immigration issues.

“It's a huge opportunity for St. Louis to capitalize on,” Obenson said. “It's up to us to make a decision whether this is what we want and if this is what we want, let's go for it.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.