Foreign-Educated Immigrants

When immigrants come to America, they bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience from their lives back home. Many, however, find it difficult to continue their professional careers in their new homes. As engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists, accountants, and teachers in their home countries, they often find themselves working as nannies, cashiers, security guards, and cab drivers in the U.S. This enormous underutilization of human resources has been dubbed “brain waste,” and it is a problem that has attracted the attention of policy makers throughout the United States and across the globe.

A new report, Reducing Brain Waste: Creating Career Pathways for Foreign-Educated Immigrants in Washington State, with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, details the impact brain waste has had on Washington State, the barriers that cause brain waste, and actionable steps to mitigate its impact.

To illustrate the barriers experienced by foreign-educated immigrants, the report takes a deeper look at nursing and teaching. As industries that are regulated by state law, those entering the nursing or teaching workforce must obtain state licenses in order to find employment in their respective industries. Despite years of investing in education or sometimes decades in the field, foreign-educated immigrants searching for a way to re-enter professional careers encounter one road block after another.

The barriers facing foreign-educated immigrants are many: a lack of information and guidance around career re-entry requirements; limited proficiency in English, especially in vocationally-specific language and usage; recertification hurdles and costs; the tendency of some employers to discount foreign training and experience; and limited professional and social networks in the U.S.

Shifting policies and practices to bring the skills, assets, and talents of foreign-educated immigrants will bolster our economy and bring much needed educated workers into sectors like nursing and teaching where a skills gap – a shortage of qualified professionals to fill job vacancies – exist. In teaching, integrating foreign-educated immigrants will strengthen efforts to diversify the teaching workforce, which has been proven by research to improve outcomes for students. A nursing workforce that reflects communities ensures that every Washington State resident receives quality care where patients can communicate and feel comfortable with their health care provider.

According to research from the Migration Policy Institute,1.6 million, or 23 percent, of the nearly 7.2 million college-educated immigrants ages 25 and older in the U.S. civilian labor force are affected by brain waste.

These college-educated immigrants suffer from real consequences as a result of brain waste. Mohammed immigrated to the United States from Ethopia in 2011, bringing with him more than 20 years of clinical experience as a nurse, along with degrees in nursing and public health. "I was surprised and disappointed that the only job I could find was as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), a position significantly below my training and skillset. The job did not pay well and I felt like I was taking steps backwards from my work in Ethiopia," Mohammed said.

Twelve key levers of systemic change are essential in tackling these barriers: data collection and measurement; case management capacity; online resources; bridge programs; alternative routes and pipelines to recertification and employment; licensing reform; professional connector programs; standard-setting for credential evaluation; financial assistance programs; employer engagement; multi-sector collaborations; and training.

Over the last 25 years, the number of foreign-educated immigrant professionals with degrees in Washington State has increased greatly. Building the infrastructure to integrate these individuals into the workforce will help increase their productivity, household earnings, and tax contributions to benefit all Washington residents. Dismantling the numerous barriers facing underemployed educated immigrants and refugees seeking re-entry into professional careers will also address growing workforce shortages, particularly in the healthcare and education sectors examined in this report. Additionally, these sectors gain a labor pool with strong multicultural and linguistic skills, a capacity important to both reducing health disparities and improving student educational outcomes in an increasingly diverse state.

Resources:

Reducing Brain Waste:Creating Career Pathways for Foreign-Educated Immigrants in Washington State (OneAmerica)

Professional Licensing and Career Pathways in Massachusetts and the U.S. (MIRA)

Steps to Success (IMPRINT)

Brain Waste Characteristics of Selected States (Migration Policy Institute)

Uneven Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States (Migration Policy Institute)

Rx for Strengthening Massachusetts Economy and Healthcare System (MIRA)

 

Over the last 25 years, the number of foreign-educated immigrant professionals with degrees in Washington State has increased greatly. Building the infrastructure to integrate these individuals into 

the workforce will help increase their productivity, household earnings, 

and tax contributions to benefit all Washington residents. Dismantling the numerous barriers facing underemployed educated immigrants and refugees seeking re-entry into professional careers will also address growing workforce shortages, particularly in the healthcare and education sectors examined in this report. Additionally, these 

sectors gain a labor pool with strong multicultural and linguistic skills, 

a capacity important to both reducing health disparities and improving student educational outcomes in 

an increasingly diverse state. 

 

Tens of thousands of foreign- educated immigrants and refugees with degrees in Washington are 

either unemployed or underemployed. With careers as engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists, accountants, and teachers in their home countries, 

they find themselves working as nannies, cashiers, security guards, and cab drivers in the U.S. This enormous underutilization of human resources has been dubbed “brain waste and is a problem that has attracted the attention of policy makers and workforce development practitioners throughout the United States and across the globe. 

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