During her 38 years as president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, Anna Crosslin has seen how immigrants and refugees have made significant contributions to the city with the right support. The Institute serves 7,500 immigrants and refugees from more than 80 countries, providing language and citizenship classes, translation and interpretation services, and job training. The Institute also offers loans to help foreign-born business owners get started. “Through our small business and micro-lending programs, we’ve helped start or expand over 500 immigrant-owned businesses in St. Louis,” Crosslin says. “The economic impact of these businesses has been huge—in excess of $170 million, according to the Institute’s most recent annual report.”
Crosslin herself knows that picking up a life and moving to a new country with a different language and culture is no small feat. Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and an American father, Crosslin’s family moved to the United States when she was just two years old. A few years later, tragedy struck, when Crosslin’s father died in an accident, leaving her mother widowed with four young children. “I saw my mom struggle with cultural and language barriers, as she tried to start a business to support her family,” Crosslin says. Despite the obstacles, her mother became a successful entrepreneur and put her children through college. This inspired Crosslin to dedicate her career to helping foreign-born individuals navigate the obstacles of their new lives in America and become productive members of society.
Many foreign-born individuals with university degrees end up working in low-skilled jobs because their credentials aren’t recognized in the United States.
Yet, Crosslin has also seen international talent go to waste, often because of bureaucratic obstacles. “There’s a lot of brain waste within the immigrant and refugee populations,” she says. Crosslin explains that many foreign-born individuals with university degrees end up working in low-skilled jobs because their credentials aren’t recognized in the United States, or they don’t have the necessary language skills to pursue better work opportunities.
Crosslin believes more can, and should, be done to capitalize on the skills of the foreign-born population in St. Louis and across the United States. “With the right support, immigrants can help revitalize population growth and the local economy,” she says. “They are a crucial piece of the puzzle in ensuring our city’s future success.”