It is not uncommon for immigrants who have advanced degrees in law and medicine to be working less skilled jobs such as a taxi driver or waitress. In fact, a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reports that the U.S. is experiencing a “brain waste” by preventing high skilled immigrants from efficiently transferring their foreign credentials.
Millions of immigrants with advanced professional degrees reside legally in the U.S. but are either unemployed or underemployed. They staff lobbies as security guards and wait tables at restaurants rather than using their education and skills. These individuals come to the U.S. through a variety of pathways yet end up in a complex situation without jobs as their degrees are not transferred here. One physical therapist found herself in this difficult situation after coming to the U.S. from Ireland. She was unable to test for her license in Pennsylvania because she did not take a course in Pennsylvania history which is part of the physical therapy program in the U.S.
Upwardly Global is an organization that works with immigrants to try to help them find jobs in the U.S. “In their home countries they were engineers, doctors, scientists, accountants, and nonprofit professional. In the U.S. they become cashiers, nannies, and cab drivers, if employed at all.” There are several barriers that contribute to this including U.S. employers not recognizing foreign-earned credentials or licenses. This organization uses their ties with the community to work with employers and helping professionals get back into their careers.
Another study by the Brookings Institution found that over half of highly-skilled immigrants in the 100 largest metropolitan areas are overqualified for their jobs. While there are growing shortages in several markets such as healthcare, the U.S. is underutilizing the workers that are already in the U.S. with the exact skills needed to match demand. One huge part of reforming the immigration system is finding ways to allow immigrants to participate in the labor market in the careers where they belong.
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