Most economists agree that immigration is a net benefit for the U.S. economy, with immigrants filling labor shortages and taking jobs that complement the positions of American workers. But while it’s one thing to read this in a book or newspaper article, it’s far more compelling to see it playing out first hand in our own community.


At World Relief, we work closely with 50 companies through our employment referral and job skills mentorship programs, and over the past five years we have placed refugees and immigrants in positions at over 400 companies. Recently, we sat down with Steve Laing, a human resources manager at Smithfield Foods, to talk about the important role immigrants play in their workforce.


Smithfield Foods is a $15 billion global food company with operations in five countries and more than 54,000 employees. Laing oversees human resources at their St. Charles plant, which is the largest dry sausage facility in the United States. Production employees process and package products like genoa salami and other sausage products on two shifts.\


As a people-oriented company, Smithfield prides itself on being an “employer of choice.” This means that they provide their employees with full benefits and opportunities for advancement. Smithfield also offers their employees unique benefits like tuition assistance for employees furthering their education. “Our employees can make this a career,” Laing says.


Rett Janzen, World Relief’s Employment Services Manager, adds that, “Smithfield offers refugees a job with benefits that pays a living wage. This allows them to provide for their families and maintain a higher quality of life than a job that pays closer to minimum wage.” He tells the story of a refugee woman from Central Africa who began working at Smithfield several years after arriving in the United States. She and her husband saved the additional income from her new job to buy their first home. “That would have been out of reach for them if they were working minimum wage jobs,” Janzen says. The goal of the World Relief Employment Services team is to build relationships with even more companies like Smithfield, so that refugees and immigrants have better opportunities to advance their careers and improve their quality of life in the United States.


World Relief has a long relationship with Laing. More than 10 years ago he needed to hire 45 employees in a short period of time to complete a seasonal job at his previous company. He learned about World Relief online and met with the employment team to fill the positions. He was so impressed with the work ethic of the refugees he hired that when he began working for Smithfield five years ago, he continued utilizing World Relief’s referral program to fill openings.


Laing mentions that the meat processing industry has been experiencing a mild labor shortage recently, but this has not affected Smithfield’s St. Charles plant. “Refugees and immigrants are playing a valuable role within our company.” Laing says. “Immigrants have a good work ethic, they want to do well, and they are teamwork oriented.”


World Relief’s relationship with Smithfield is not unique. Human resource managers from dozens of the companies we work with affirm that they utilize our referral services, not out of a sense of charity, but for very practical reasons. They have open positions, and they want to fill them with the best workers. “I just want to find the best candidate.” Laing says. “For every refugee I interview, I probably interview 3-4 non-refugees. I hire refugees 3-to-1 because they are often the best candidates.”


Over the last five years, Laing has hired approximately 45 refugees through World Relief’s referral service. Most of them had already been in the United States for one to three years and spoke English well (a requirement for many positions at Smithfield), but were underemployed in their previous job. “They appreciate the stability and opportunity to provide for their families,” Laing says, “and we appreciate their enthusiasm and work ethic.”


Janzen says, “Many of the individuals we have referred to positions at Smithfield are still there years later because of the tremendous opportunities for growth.” At World Relief, we are so thankful to partner with great companies like Smithfield that offer refugees and immigrants stable jobs with a living wage and the opportunity to build a career. And the companies we work with appreciate having a reliable source of qualified candidates to fill their open positions.