Opinion: Afghan refugees need help rebuilding their lives. California will benefit in many ways.

Kent Spanos is a program manager at the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and lives in Dallas. Duvin is the executive director at the International Rescue Committee in San Diego and lives in Mission Valley.

California is expected to lead the nation in the resettlement of Afghan evacuees as the United States receives tens of thousands, following its troop withdrawal from the nation in August after 20 years of war.

While the United States has a moral obligation to support these displaced Afghans, they will contribute to the vibrancy of our communities and the strength of our economies for generations to come as other immigrant groups have done throughout our history.

About 5,000 Afghan evacuees are headed for California, according to federal government estimates and State Department data for the Afghan Placement and Assistance program.

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Congress approved funding to help resettle the 95,000 Afghans expected to arrive and settle in the United States over the next year. About 25,000 have been resettled so far, with an additional 45,000 still on domestic U.S. military bases.

This presents a logistical challenge, but it’s also a huge opportunity. An investment in the future of refugees is an investment in the state’s collective future. Immigrants, including refugees, contribute to the economy — and those contributions occur on the local level.

We know this because California has already benefited from the 11 million immigrants who call the Golden State home. Immigrants generate demand for goods through billions of dollars in spending power. They pay taxes, build businesses and end up creating jobs for others.

But to get to that point, they need assistance to rebuild their lives.

California already has one advantage when it comes to helping resettle Afghan refugees: a significant pre-existing Afghan population — which is one reason the federal government is sending the state such a large share of evacuees. Forty-one percent of the 132,000 Afghan immigrants in the United States lived in California before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan earlier this year. The largest numbers are in Sacramento, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

To help Afghan evacuees succeed in America, California’s city and county governments, local nonprofit organizations and the private sector must all do their part.

Resettlement agencies already help refugees find housing, enroll their children in school, identify career paths and apply for jobs. But these agencies are stretched thin. So targeted outreach by trusted messengers is needed to help the new arrivals access nonprofit and government services, including housing assistance funds, financial literacy workshops, and scholarship opportunities.

Make no mistake: California needs refugees and immigrants.

There are shortfalls in California’s workforce, especially given the acute shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the state has a shortage of more than 40,000 registered nurses that is expected to last for five years, according to a recent report from the University of California San Francisco.

About 16 percent of all refugees work in the health care sector, and 47 percent of refugees working in health care are personal care aides, registered nurses or nursing assistants, according to a New American Economy analysis.

Immigrants are also over-represented in construction and agriculture, two other vital state industries.

So connecting refugees to education and job-training programs in these and other sectors can help shore up long-term gaps. A key part of this effort is helping refugees to translate their skills for the American workforce.

Immigrants often have degrees, certifications and professional work experience, but American employers are less likely to accept these qualifications than they would similar ones from American workers. California recently took the first step in reforming occupational licensing laws to make it easier for refugees, asylees and Special Immigrant Visa holders to translate their foreign certifications into licenses that are valid in the United States. Now localities must create and adopt regulations to administer the process.

The private sector can help by implementing inclusive hiring practices that consider foreign qualifications. The California economy and Afghan refugees will benefit when refugees are able to put their skills to work in their local communities.

But there are some obvious issues around resettlement in California, including the cost and availability of housing. California’s large cities have some of the highest living costs in the country, which can make it difficult for new arrivals. Moreover, refugees don’t have the income and credit histories that many property managers require.

As newcomers arrive with a primary aim to become self-sufficient and gainfully employed as quickly as possible, we encourage property managers with rental vacancies to work with local resettlement agencies striving to place arriving families in housing.

High-cost cities with large immigrant populations — including in the San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas — need to think creatively about how to encourage affordable housing development near transportation and job centers. In the meantime, property managers can be incentivized to rent to evacuees.

America — and California, specifically — were built by enterprising immigrants who came in search of a better life. California’s economy, communities and great cultural diversity will benefit for years to come from the arrival of refugees.