PORTLAND – About 50 immigrants and refugees who have professional experience but need jobs networked with representatives of nearly two dozen companies Thursday night at a job fair that was the first of its kind.

The event drew job seekers from countries including Japan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, the Republic of Burundi, Argentina and India. Most have professional work experience and advanced degrees from colleges in their home countries.

They came to the headquarters of the Council on International Educational Exchange on Fore Street to meet hiring representatives, hear job hunting tips and learn about job opportunities at the International Night of Networking.

“I am here to meet with some employers,” said Ruben Ruganza, 56, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who arrived in the United States three years ago.

Ruganza, dressed in a crisp suit, said his poor English has made finding a professional job a struggle, despite his impressive resume. He has a bachelor’s degree in hospital management and a teacher’s certificate. In his home country, Ruganza worked for five years as a school principal and 17 years in professional posts in a hospital.

Other immigrants described similar difficulty finding work.

“It is really tough. The city is not that big. There are not that many businesses here. And the condition of the economy …,” said Majid Majeed, 46, an Iraqi immigrant and father of four who lives in Westbrook.

Majeed, who came to the United States nearly a year ago, has a bachelor’s degree in English and worked in Iraq for major corporations, including the construction firms Bechtel Corp. and KBR.

Now, he is working part time for Catholic Charities Maine and looking for a full-time job in his field, ideally teaching English to other immigrants.

Catholic Charities and other nonprofit groups hosted the job fair.

After introductions and hors d’oeuvres, the job seekers went to industry-specific break-out sessions, led by representatives from about 20 companies, including Maine Medical Center, The Home Depot, Mercy Hospital, General Dynamics and Woodard & Curran.

Liz Greason, an employment case manager for Catholic Charities, said the job fair was targeted to immigrants and refugees with permanent legal residency and professional job training.

Deb Breiting, a job skills coach with Portland Adult Education, one of the event’s organizing groups, called it a valuable opportunity to unite highly skilled immigrants with companies that are hiring.

“There is such a need, and not just for job seekers. Employers are looking to diversity,” she said. “If we can connect the two, we are happy to be that bridge.”

Other organizers were Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises Inc., LearningWorks and the New Mainers-Refugee Workforce Development Project.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]