Grecia Perez-Rodriguez understands firsthand the challenges faced by more than two million college-educated immigrants and refugees who are unemployed or underemployed in the United States, sixty percent of whom hold credentials earned in another country.
Perez-Rodriguez’s law degree—earned at a top Mexican university—and experience practicing immigration law in Guadalajara were not recognized by occupational licensing systems in the U.S. Higher education institutions in Perez-Rodriguez’s new home state of Nevada sent confusing instructions about how to arrange for international transcripts to be evaluated.
“The message was: ‘Start over or figure out a way to do something with what you have,’” recalls Perez-Rodriguez, who uses the pronouns they and them. They took a job as a receptionist at a law office while figuring out what to do next.
Breaking New Ground in Nevada
Now, as the first Program Officer for the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP) at the Nevada Governor’s Office for New Americans (ONA), Perez-Rodriguez will work to ensure that the state is addressing systemic barriers to employment of other internationally trained immigrants.
This work is timely and urgent. Nevada, like other states across the country, faces critical labor shortages in key sectors like health care, yet nearly 40 percent of Nevada’s 87,200 college-educated immigrants and refugees were unemployed or underemployed as of 2019.
Perez-Rodriguez’s new role, made possible with support from WES’ SIIP Demonstration Opportunity, will focus on advancing programs and policies which ensure that immigrants and refugees with international experience, education, and training more equitably access work opportunities in Nevada. One of Perez-Rodriguez’s first priorities is to raise awareness about this available talent.
“I want to challenge the commonly held ideas that everyone has about immigrants and refugees in the workforce. The hospitality sector is important in Nevada, but immigrants have training and experience to work across multiple industries and professions, as doctors and engineers,” Perez-Rodriguez said. “I want to make our agencies and partners aware that immigrants can face the same [employment] barriers as others, plus additional ones, like language and credentialing.”
Strengthening Connections to Ensure Access
Perez-Rodriguez is convening partners across the state in two regional working groups of cross-sector stakeholders—including government agencies, higher education institutions, and non-profit organizations—to develop strategies that address employment barriers. Input from these groups will shape a cohort-based model that will connect internationally trained immigrants and refugees with resources to access career opportunities in four priority sectors: health care, IT, logistics, and manufacturing.
“The goal is not just to get people into a good-paying job, but also to position them for growth, to put them on a career pathway,” Perez-Rodriguez explained. “The sectors we’ve identified were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and have great demand for new talent. Our goal is to show that this model can work and be replicated in other sectors. Success means that we’re changing families’ lives and also strengthening Nevada’s workforce.”
Working with SIIP to Expand Initiatives
The Nevada ONA was one of five organizations selected to participate in WES’ inaugural SIIP Demonstration Opportunity in 2021. The 18-month initiative builds on the success of SIIP.
Since its 2017 launch, SIIP has provided customized training, coaching, and technical assistance to a network of 40 cities, regions, and states to advance the inclusion of immigrants and refugees who have international training and experience. Nevada was among the eight cities and states selected to participate in the 2020 SIIP cohort. The SIIP Demonstration Opportunity was designed to further increase capacity for inclusion work in engaged communities. SIIP Demonstration Opportunity participants receive technical and financial support to expand initiatives that have potential for replication throughout the U.S.
“The Nevada ONA team has made tremendous progress in advancing workforce inclusion, with a focus on advancing language access, opening pathways for occupational licensing, and supporting immigrants and refugees in building professional networks,” said Katherine Gebremedhin, Director of State and Local Initiatives at WES Global Talent Bridge. “We’re excited to see how Grecia will deepen this impact as the state’s first ever SIIP Program Officer—and hope that other states follow Nevada’s lead in prioritizing this work with similar staffing investments in the future.”
WES recently announced the communities selected to participate in the fifth cohort of its Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP). Learn more about SIIP and the SIIP Demonstration Opportunity.