Last week, bipartisan legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives, putting the United States a step closer to envisioning a workforce that works for all.
First introduced in August 2020 as a stand-alone bill with bipartisan support, the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act was reintroduced in June 2021 with six bipartisan co-sponsors. The legislation directs the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct an interagency study of the barriers that limit the employment opportunities of immigrants and refugees with international credentials.
Now, as tens of thousands of Afghan newcomers arrive in the U.S., many with international credentials and experience working in high-demand fields, the legislation has found strong support as a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 (NDAA). The measure passed out of the House on September 23 and has now moved on to the Senate.
“This is a historic moment,” said Jina Krause-Vilmar, president and CEO of Upwardly Global, which helped spearhead efforts to advance the legislation. “For the first time, bipartisan legislation to promote the economic mobility of immigrants and refugees with international credentials has advanced in Congress. This is an important step forward in building an inclusive workforce, especially as communities across the U.S. welcome Afghan newcomers.”
The U.S. is home to at least two million college-educated immigrants and refugees who are currently underemployed or unemployed; 60 percent hold international credentials, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This skill underutilization results in an estimated $39 billion in forgone wages and $10 billion in unrealized tax receipts each year. It also stymies our economic recovery, keeping valuable experience out of essential U.S. workforce sectors like health care, STEM, and education. Nearly 30 percent of Afghan immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2019 held a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“We are hopeful that the Senate will pass this important legislation,” said Krause-Vilmar. “We will continue to support this effort to ensure that all workers are able to rejoin their professions, rebuild their lives, and contribute to our communities.”
The IMPRINT coalition has launched the #UntappedTalent campaign in support of policies that are inclusive of all workers, and to open pathways so that everyone has a fair chance of reaching their educational and career goals. Join us.