What Makes for Success? New Report Examines Initiatives that Help Highly Skilled Immigrants with Foreign-Earned Degrees Contribute More Fully to the U.S. Economy
WASHINGTON — With nearly 2 million college-educated immigrants and refugees in the United States unable to fully utilize their professional skills, better understanding of the elements of successful programs and policies that reduce the waste of advanced education and skills can benefit immigrants, their families and the U.S. economy more generally.
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy explores a range of frontline programs and policy reforms that are providing cutting-edge career navigation, relicensing, gap filling and job search assistance for foreign-trained professionals in a wide range of occupations. The report, Unlocking Skills: Successful Initiatives for Integrating Foreign-Trained Immigrant Professionals, also examines different state policy and licensing contexts that affect these highly skilled individuals, with a focus on the dense thicket of state laws and regulations that slow or prevent qualified individuals from practicing in a wide range of occupations.
One-quarter of all college-educated immigrants and refugees in the United States are stuck in low-skilled jobs or unemployed because of complex licensing requirements, lack of access to programs that can help them bridge English or skills gaps, unfamiliarity with the U.S. labor market and employers’ negative perceptions of the quality of foreign education and work experience. In an earlier report, MPI found that the this skill underutilization, also referred to as brain waste, results in $39.4 billion in forgone wages and a resulting $10.2 billion in unrealized tax payments annually. More than half of the 1.9 million highly skilled immigrants experiencing brain waste came to the United States with academic and professional credentials already in hand.
“Today’s report examines lessons from smart, strategic initiatives that are working successfully to end the waste of advanced education and training that immigrants and refugees bring with them to the United States,” said co-author Margie McHugh, who is director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “These lessons and successful practices are useful not only to state and local actors who are seeking to leverage the skills of highly trained immigrants, but also to the growing number of policymakers who are working more broadly to end the damage done by unnecessarily rigid state occupation licensing laws.”
After identifying key challenges facing those working to end brain waste, the report explores a number of opportunities to advance the field, including recommendations to:
- Expand initiatives to review and reform state licensing laws that impose unnecessary and undue requirements on foreign-trained immigrants.
- Increase advanced English language and bridge programming to help internationally educated immigrants top-off their skills and become licensed in the United States.
- Conduct large-scale, formal evaluations 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.
- Increase monitoring and technical assistance to address employer bias.
- Expand reciprocity and mutual recognition agreements, and support efforts to harmonize qualifications across countries, states, licensing boards, accreditation bodies and educational institutions.
“When highly qualified doctors, engineers, social workers, teachers and other professionals are unable to utilize the academic and professional skills they brought with them to the United States, nobody benefits,” McHugh said. “This report shows that small, targeted interventions can often lead to big payoffs in reducing brain waste—and that the field is poised on multiple fronts to unlock the skills of immigrants, and allow families, employers and local economies to benefit.”