In August, as the United States Armed Forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, about 13,000 evacuated Afghan residents were sent to Fort McCoy near Tomah and Sparta in Wisconsin. In total, 55,000 to 65,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan are in the U.S. or waiting to come here from military bases abroad. They are being resettled across the country in a process that will continue at least into next year.
Most of the individuals currently living at Fort McCoy will not stay in Wisconsin. Federal officials have announced that about 400 refugees from Afghanistan will be resettled in Wisconsin, and not all of them will necessarily come from Fort McCoy. According to the office that manages refugee programs at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), the individuals will likely be placed in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, or Wausau, because of the established resettlement agencies and other local resources available in those cities.
Over the last few weeks, Wisconsin employers have contacted state government and private social service agencies as well as the state chamber of commerce to ask about employing evacuated Afghans. Employers across most industries in Wisconsin have reported that an ongoing and worsening labor shortage is preventing them from operating at full capacity.
Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), told the Milwaukee Business Journal that WMC members have contacted the organization to ask about how to hire Afghan refugees. WMC is the state’s chamber of commerce and largest business trade association. Similarly, DCF’s communications director told the Business Journal that employers have contacted her agency expressing an interest in hiring refugees.
Mary Flynn, program director at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, said at least 10 employers have contacted her organization about sponsoring Afghan refugee families. Flynn’s organization is one of six social service agencies in Wisconsin accepting the cases of refugees at Fort McCoy. Lutheran Social Services can serve about 200 refugees. From 2015 through 2019, the agency resettled about 55 Afghan refugees in the Madison and Milwaukee areas.
Ultimately, most decisions about the placement of evacuees are made by the U.S. State Department in conjunction with national volunteer organizations and their local affiliates. With only about 400 Afghan refugees being permanently resettled in Wisconsin, most Wisconsin employers will have to look elsewhere to meet their workforce needs.