WASHINGTON — Foreign-trained professionals often encounter difficulties putting their skills and professional and academic experience to good use in the host-country labor market, particularly in regulated professions. There are a number of reasons why barriers to practicing the profession in which foreign workers are trained can arise, among them differences in education and training, language proficiency or employer resistance to hiring a candidate with unfamiliar qualifications.
For occupations that require licensing or registration—such as in engineering or health care—examinations, application fees or supervised training requirements can represent additional barriers to entry.
A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, Tackling Brain Waste: Strategies to Improve the Recognition of Immigrants’ Foreign Qualifications, examines the range of policies immigrant-receiving countries have introduced to improve the recognition of foreign credentials and focuses on strategies to remedy the credentialing gaps that keep many immigrants from fulfilling their professional potential.
“The sheer complexity of licensing systems and the vast number of agencies and government departments involved at different levels of government leave room for confusion and make it difficult for governments to ensure that policies are implemented consistently,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Madeleine Sumption, who authored the report.
Said MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou: “In an era of growing competition for human capital, policymakers in countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and in Europe increasingly understand the importance of focusing on policies to address the recognition of foreign credentials.”
The report notes that there are issues other than credential recognition at play when it comes to maximizing the skills and experience of immigrant workers. Some immigrants require significant support to fill gaps in their skills, gain local work experience and address other barriers to employment.
“Foreign professionals, especially the newly arrived, are often not completely interchangeable with their locally trained counterparts,” the report says. “As a result, effectively demonstrating that their training meets local standards may not be enough; they may also require opportunities to fill knowledge deficits without prohibitive time and expense.”
The report is the latest in a research project that is investigating how governments can improve the recognition of foreign qualifications through domestic public policies and international cooperation. The research project is being produced with the assistance of the European Union , through a 100,000 euro grant. Earlier reports in the series have focused on credential recognition in the United States, particularly in the medical and engineering sectors; international labor mobility and qualifications recognition within the engineering profession, which has worked to achieve global recognition standards; and on new trends in government and private-sector responses to credential-recognition problems. The final report in the series, to be issued later this year, will focus on how international cooperation can facilitate the productive use of immigrants’ skills.
Credential recognition is currently on the EU agenda. A process is underway to reform the directive that regulates the recognition of credentials in regulated occupations, with an eye to further reducing barriers to intra-EU mobility in these occupations.
In the United States, no significant efforts are in progress at the federal level to reduce barriers to the transfer of skills and experience brought by internationally trained professionals; however, a handful of states, including New York, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, are taking steps to improve credential-recognition processes for certain internationally trained professionals.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that more than 1.6 million college-educated immigrants in the United States were underemployed or unemployed as of 2011.
Read the report here.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) 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. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.