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A strong economy is an inclusive economy in which all workers can thrive. Yet more than two million immigrants and refugees with college degrees are underemployed or unemployed in the U.S. Sixty percent hold international credentials.
Systemic barriers to economic mobility—including limited recognition of international credentials—impact individuals who are trying to rejoin their professions, deny communities critical social, cultural, and linguistic competence, and keep millions of dollars out of the U.S. economy each year.
There are opportunities for reform.
“My training and experience were recognized last year. Why is this year different? I can continue to serve and save lives.”
Lubab graduated from a top medical college in Baghdad and worked as a licensed pathologist for 18 years, saving countless lives until her own security was threatened. In 2014, she resettled with her family in the U.S. Seeking safety cost Lubab her career: Barriers to licensure, including time-consuming and costly medical exams and clinical training, prevented Lubab from rebuilding her medical career in the U.S. To support her family, she took a job at a restaurant.
In 2020, New Jersey granted Lubab a temporary medical license that allowed her to support the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response by caring for patients in a nursing home. However, the license has since expired. Lubab now works as a pathologist’s assistant.
Toyosi earned a political science degree in Nigeria and built a successful career in the country’s non-profit sector, working on wide-ranging social issues with international NGOs. But when she moved to the U.S. in 2018, her extensive experience & international credentials were not understood or valued. She took a job as a personal shopper with an online service to pay her bills.
With support from Boston-based African Bridge Network, a partner organization of the SIIP Demonstration partnership opportunity, Toyosi has been able to secure a role with a local nonprofit focused on addressing hunger. She is now poised to advance her career in the U.S., but at least two million other college-educated immigrants and refugees still face underemployment. Policy reforms must address barriers that limit employment of immigrants and refugees who hold international credentials.
Rona worked for three years as a nurse in Afghanistan before completing a medical degree and practicing as a physician for two years. When ongoing political instability threatened her security, Rona moved to Kabul, where she worked with both the United Nations and USAID. She resettled to the U.S. three years ago, but systemic barriers to licensure have prevented her from working as a physician. Limited recognition of her credentials and experience from Afghanistan mean that she needs to repeat her education and training to practice medicine in the U.S., a process that takes years and costs tens of thousands of dollars.
With support from Washington Academy for International Medical Graduates (WAIMG), an IMPRINT member organization, Rona is taking steps to rebuild her career in health care. She has worked as a medical interpreter and completed a paid internship as a patient care coordinator. She recently completed courses to become a medical assistant and plans to work towards an associate degree. She hopes to find a job that will both support her family and help address growing health workforce shortages in Washington State.
Ivana was a well-known journalist in Sudan and South Sudan, using her platform to advance gender equality. When she came to the U.S. in 2017, she took a role as a home-health aide. She works long hours to provide for her three children. Limited recognition of her prior experience has kept her from rebuilding her journalism career in the U.S. “But the hope is always there,” Ivana says.
Ivana is working with Upwardly Global, an IMPRINT member organization, to advance her career, but additional policy reforms are needed to address the barriers that limit employment for immigrants and refugees who hold international credentials.
Together, we can open pathways to success for all. We must:
Invest in accessible workforce development training and English language learning.
Support state and local efforts to advance the economic inclusion of immigrants and refugees.
Ensure that occupational licensing laws recognize international credentials.
WES is joined by more than 165 organizations urging Congress to pass the Bridging the Gap for New Americans Act. This bipartisan legislation will study the factors limiting employment opportunities for immigrants & refugees who hold international credentials.