E.g., 12/02/2023
E.g., 12/02/2023
Uneven Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States

This exploratory study provides an unprecedented assessment of the “brain-waste” phenomenon in the United States—a serious waste of human capital resulting from the unemployment or underemployment of highly skilled college-educated immigrants. Brain waste not only impacts the economic development and global competitiveness of host countries, but also intensifies the effects of brain drain in sending countries. In order to measure the scope of the problem, authors examine data across two targeted samples—foreign-educated immigrants overall and legal permanent residents—and analyze this population based on demographic characteristics, immigrant admission category, and work experience in the United States and abroad. Furthermore, the report examines the relative importance of these characteristics on the occupational trajectories of foreign and U.S.-educated immigrants compared with similarly educated native skilled workers.

Authors identify two key factors that contribute to the underutilization of high-skilled immigrant workers: nonrecognition of foreign academic and professional credentials and limited English proficiency. Possible policy paths for addressing these issues are offered. These include: establishing standards for validating credentials obtained abroad by promoting an international accreditation system or by incorporating the assessment of overseas credentials into the admissions process; integrating language learning into workforce development through distance and anytime-anywhere learning strategies; expanding internship and mentorship programs aimed at developing technical language and workforce communication skills; recalibrating admission levels in various work-related streams based on labor market needs; and issuing transitional temporary-to-permanent visas that allow employers and prospective foreign workers to “test the waters” in the U.S. labor market.

The report concludes with recommendations on these challenges.

Table of Contents 

I. College-Educated Immigrants and Skill Waste: Introduction

II. Points of Departure

III. Skill Underutilization among Educated Immigrants: Results from the American Community Survey

IV. Occupational Trajectories of Highly Skilled Legal Permanent Residents: Results from the New Immigrant Survey

V. American Community Survey versus the New Immigrant Survey: Telling Consistent Stories

VI. Conclusion

VII. Future Research Agenda