There is no question that immigrants want to learn English and there are many programs to teach them, but the language barrier is not the sole challenge in helping them succeed in Utah, community leaders say.
The United Way released a 40-page report this month called Building on Common Ground: A Framework for Immigrant Integration. It includes a survey conducted by De la Cruz and Associates, a Midvale-based company.
According to the report, the top barriers that make it hard for immigrants to learn English are:
* A lack of time
* A lack of child care
Many immigrants are working multiple jobs, adjusting to life in a new country and trying to provide for their families, making it hard to find time to take English classes, said Bill Crim, United Way's strategic initiatives and public policy director.
"What was striking is the difficulty to survive and trying to learn a language at the same time," Crim said.
The survey, about learning English, was based on interviews with 38 employers and more than 300 immigrants or refugees, most of whom work in construction, food service or housekeeping. The survey was conducted in Spanish, Russian and Arabic because those languages are spoken in the largest Salt Lake County immigrant and refugee communities, the report said.
There are an estimated 200,000 immigrants and refugees statewide, Crim said.
Still, more than half of immigrants who have tried to learn English said they learned or are trying to by participating in a school-based program. Another 20 percent said they've learned or are trying to through a program at church or work, the survey said.
Immigrants want to learn English because they know it will help them get higher-paying jobs and better support their families, the survey said.
One of the biggest surprises from the survey, community leaders said, is the time employers think it takes to learn English. Almost half of employers said it should take six to 12 months to learn English, the survey said.
Although learning English is important for immigrants, it's not the only resource that will help them adjust to living in Utah, said Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Centro de la Familia de Utah community affairs director.
Immigrants also need to be educated on the health care and educational systems; on how to buy or rent a house; on how to file immigration paperwork; and on how to save money, Chavez-Houck said.
Community leaders said they hope business owners, government agencies, educators and lawmakers realize the importance of helping immigrants and refugees. Without the influx of foreign-born immigrants in the past five years, Utah would have experienced labor shortages, higher costs and a reduction in economic activity, the report said.
United Way is talking to state officials about creating a task force that would look into how Utah can better serve immigrant and refugee families, Crim said.
"The state is evolving . . . and it's a good investment to be working with immigrant communities," Chavez-Houck said. "They're part of Utah."
To read the United Way report, "Building on Common Ground: A Framework for Immigrant Integration," go to www.uw.org. Click on "What We Do" and then on "Research and Reports."