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Initiative That Helps Internationally Trained Health Professionals Join U.S. Health Care Field Earns National Prize for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives
Press Release
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Initiative That Helps Internationally Trained Health Professionals Join U.S. Health Care Field Earns National Prize for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives

WASHINGTON – The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) on Wednesday announced that the Welcome Back Initiative is one of four recipients of its 2011 E Pluribus Unum Prizes for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives. The national award honors the Welcome Back Initiative, which is San Francisco-based and has affiliates in eight states, for its work with foreign-trained health care professionals living in the United States. WBI helps these skilled immigrants to obtain the professional licenses they need to join a U.S. health care sector experiencing worker shortages and increased demands as the nation’s population ages.

The Welcome Back Initiative and the other E Pluribus Unum Prizes winners will be honored tonight at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other national policymakers. The national award is accompanied by a $50,000 prize.

The E Pluribus Unum Prizes program, established in 2008 by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy with generous support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, seeks to encourage the adoption of effective integration practices and inspire others to take on the important work of integrating immigrants and their children so they can join the mainstream of U.S. society.

The Welcome Back Initiative provides orientation, links to education and language training offered elsewhere in the community, and support in securing appropriate U.S. licenses and credentials so that foreign-trained health professionals can re-start their careers in the U.S. health sector. The Welcome Back Centers leverage the training, experience and language skills of these underemployed migrant professionals, helping them to move from low-skill to high-demand jobs in the health care profession.

Welcome Back Centers are located in: Boston, Denver, New York, Providence (RI), San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and suburban Washington, DC.

Since 2001, more than 11,000 health professionals have received services through the Welcome Back Initiative, with over 2,400 of them validating their credentials.

“The Welcome Back Initiative taps into an available supply of health care professionals in ways that can help relieve vacancies in high-demand health care occupations and improve health resources in medically underserved communities,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “The nimble Welcome Back Centers work tirelessly to prevent the talents of skilled immigrants from going to waste, allowing them to instead be used for the benefit of all Americans.”

The daunting tasks of transferring credentials obtained internationally and getting licensing in the United States – coupled with language barriers and confusion about the U.S. job search process – can prematurely end the careers of immigrants. The result is that career physicians and registered nurses often languish in jobs such as taxi drivers or other unskilled work as their high-demand occupations lay seemingly out of reach.

“The underemployment of foreign-trained health professionals is a loss not only to these individuals, but to the United States as a whole – especially in the face of many states facing serious shortages of health professionals, particularly in minority communities,” said José Ramón Fernandez-Peña, founder and director of the Welcome Back Initiative, which began as a partnership between City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University. “California, for example, has a population that is nearly one-third Latino, yet only 4 percent of the state’s doctors and nurses are Latinos. These shortages mean that providers many not be available in minority or immigrant communities who speak the residents’ language or understand their culture.”

While all of the centers offer orientation, counseling and support, each site tailors services offered to the area’s demands.

 The other 2011 E Pluribus Unum Prize winners are: Hispanic Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, the International Rescue Committee in San Diego and Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders) at Temple University. Marriott International received the first-ever E Pluribus Unum Corporate Leadership Award.

Winner highlights can be found at www.integrationawards.org/winners-WelcomeBack.cfm. For more information or to set up interviews with the winners or MPI experts, contact Michelle Mittelstadt at 202-266-1910, [email protected]; or Burke Speaker, 202-266-1920, [email protected].  


The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.



San Francisco: A project of San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco, the Welcome Back Initiative’s lead site in San Francisco works with immigrant health care professionals and is home to the national initiative, which works with the individual Welcome Back Centers across the country, trains all centers’ staff, and conducts the initiative-wide evaluation. www.welcomebackinitiative.org/wb/

San Diego: With educational partner Grossmont College, the San Diego Welcome Back Center works with foreign-trained health professionals such as doctors, nurses and dentists. It also provides aid to refugees who have been trained as engineers. www.welcomebackcenter.org/ 


Denver: The Colorado Welcome Back Center, based at the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, provides services to Colorado’s internationally trained health workers, with a focus on those residing in the metropolitan Denver area. www.coloradowelcomeback.org/


Silver Spring: The SuburbanMarylandWelcomeBackCenter for Foreign Trained Health Professionals grew out of an initiative that the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services launched in 2006. It serves any internationally trained health professional currently living in Maryland. Partners include the Maryland Hospital Association; Washington Adventist, Holy Cross and ShadyGrove hospitals; MontgomeryCollege; the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development; and the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation. www.lhiinfo.org/en-programs-and-activities/Welcome-Back-Center.asp


Boston: The Boston Welcome Back Center for Internationally Educated Nurses specializes in working with foreign-trained nurses, helping them achieve their registered nurse licensing in Massachusetts. The Center is a partnership of Bunker Hill Community College, Mass Bay Community College, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, Roxbury Community College, and University of Massachusetts Boston.


New York

New York: The New York City Welcome Back Center at LaGuardia Community College assists a variety of internationally trained health professionals who reside in the tri-state area, offering New York licensing guidance for nurses, physicians, psychologists, lab technicians, occupational therapists, dentists and pharmacists. The center also helps foreign health care professionals explore alternative careers in health care to pursue while on the path toward licensing. www.laguardia.edu/nycwbc/

Rhode Island

Providence: The Rhode Island Welcome Back Center at Dorcas Place focuses on working with foreign-trained physicians, nurses, social workers and physical therapists. www.ride.ri.gov/adulteducation/Rhode%20Island%20Welcome%20Back%20Center.aspx

Washington State

Des Moines: The Puget Sound Welcome Back Center, a project of Highline Community College, works with a wide swath of internationally trained health care professionals. https://welcomeback.highline.edu/


San Antonio: The Alamo Area Welcome Back Center, based in the Westside Education and Training Center, is the result of a partnership of the Alamo Colleges: Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, St. Philip’s College and San Antonio College.