Nearly 2 million college-educated immigrants and refugees in the United States are not working in middle- or high-skill jobs despite possessing years—sometimes decades—of education and work experience. More than half of these immigrants earned their college degrees abroad, coming to the United States with academic credentials and in some cases significant professional experience. They include civil engineers who supported the work of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, teachers whose education and status made them targets of violence and repression in their home countries, nurses and doctors immigrating to join relatives in the United States, and tens of thousands of others with advanced degrees and training in a wide range of professions. Rather than working in the field for which they were trained, they fill lower-skilled and, all too often, low-wage jobs that may allow them to support their families at some level, but that provide few opportunities for professional or economic advancement.
Nationwide, one-quarter of all highly skilled immigrants suffer from “brain waste”—meaning they are either unemployed or underemployed—compared to just 18 percent of the native born. This brain waste is particularly acute for those who earned their college degrees abroad: 29 percent of these
highly skilled immigrants were unemployed or underemployed, compared to 21 percent of foreign-
born college graduates who gained their degrees in the United States. Recent Migration Policy Institute (MPI) research found that forgone annual earnings among underemployed college-educated immigrants amounted to $39 billion nationally, leading to approximately $10 billion in unrealized tax revenues. This skill underutilization is rooted in a range of challenges that face immigrants seeking to enter the skilled workforce after arriving in the United States—including navigating complex licensing requirements, demonstrating that foreign credentials meet U.S. standards, filling gaps in their education or training, and building professional networks.
The report identifies the following stubborn challenges facing those seeking to end brain waste as well as a set of opportunities and tools for doing so:
1) Review and reform state licensing laws that impose unnecessary and undue requirements on foreign-trained immigrants.
2) Increase advanced English language and bridge programming to help internationally educated immigrants top-off their skills and become licensed in the United States.
3) Expand evaluation of programs that support effective labor-market integration of high-skilled immigrants and refugees, and analysis of the elements of adult education and workforce training systems that contribute to their success.
4) Increase monitoring and technical assistance to address employer bias. Even after successfully navigating the arduous recredentialing process, foreign-trained immigrants often find their progress blocked by employer bias.
5) Expand reciprocity and mutual recognition agreements, and support efforts to harmonize qualifications across countries, states, licensing boards, accreditation bodies, and educational institutions.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Reducing Integration Barriers Facing Foreign-Trained Immigrants: Policy and Practice Lessons from Across the United States | migrationpolicy.org