October 22, 2008
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt
WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million college-educated immigrants
living in the United States are unemployed or working as taxi
drivers, dishwashers, security guards or in other unskilled jobs
because they are unable to make full use of their academic and
professional credentials, according to a new report issued today
by the Migration Policy Institute.
The report, Uneven
Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in
the United States¸ for the first
time quantifies the scope of the ‘brain waste’ problem
that affects 22 percent of the 6.1 million immigrants with
a bachelor’s degree or higher who are in the U.S. labor
market. The report analyzes and offers possible solutions
for the credentialing and language-barrier hurdles that deprive
the U.S. economy of a rich source of human capital at a time
of increasing competition globally for skilled talent.
“While policymakers in Europe, Canada and elsewhere are
focusing intently on attracting highly skilled immigrants, it
is all the more necessary for the United States to fully leverage
the talents of college-educated immigrants already living here – more
than half of whom came with academic degrees earned abroad,” said
Michael Fix, MPI’s senior vice president and co-author
of the report. “It’s vital for the U.S. economy and
its productivity in an ever-more globalized world, as well as
for the immigrants themselves.”
Said report co-author Jeanne Batalova, an MPI policy analyst: “During
a period of rising unemployment and economic difficulties, it’s
important to think ahead and make clear that allowing college-educated
immigrants already in the United States to achieve greater career
potential can increase U.S. productivity and competitiveness.
Numerous studies have shown that highly skilled immigrants contribute
to the economy through innovation and entrepreneurship, and pay
more in taxes than they take out in services. Maximizing the
use of their human capital can be an engine for job creation.”
Among the report’s findings:
- Many highly skilled immigrants experience a sharp drop in
occupational status upon first coming to the United States.
How quickly they recover their status depends on a number of
factors, including English skills, region of origin, place
of education and length of time in this country.
- Overall, college-educated immigrants from Africa and Latin
America have less success in finding skilled jobs in the United
States than do immigrants from Asia and Europe.
- Highly skilled immigrants with U.S. college degrees or U.S.
work experience prior to permanent settlement fared far better
than their peers with foreign-obtained degrees or no U.S. work
- English language proficiency is critical to obtaining jobs
commensurate with immigrants’ competencies.
The report offers a number of policy suggestions to improve
the professional outcomes for the highly skilled, including integrated
language and workforce training; and the creation of a standing
commission on labor markets that would recommend adjustments
in visa levels and put the immigration system in sync with the
In addition to offering a national snapshot, the report’s
authors examined skill underutilization on the state level by
analyzing U.S. Census data for California, Illinois, Maryland
and New York.
The report is available online at: www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/BrainWasteOct08.pdf
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan,
non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis
of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development
and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local,
national and international levels.