A physician with 25 years’ experience as head of a government clinic in Afghanistan’s Herat province came to the United States in 2019. He holds a degree from an Afghan medical college along with nearly 30 health-related trainings and certifications.
However, to support his family, he has taken a job stocking shelves at a big-box retail store in Virginia, earning $11 an hour. State licensing laws do not recognize the physician’s international credentials. Unless internationally trained physicians pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a costly, three-step examination required for medical licensure; and complete a U.S.-based residency program, they are often unable to re-license in the U.S.
“I love my field,” the Afghan doctor says. “I hope that one day I will be able to help people in a hospital.”
Congress Misses a Critical Window
This week, Congress missed a critical opportunity to put qualified workers like this doctor closer to achieving their career goals and bolster health workforces in the U.S. The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act (H.R. 4179) passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 (NDAA) in September. The measure called on the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct a study of the factors that impact employment opportunities of internationally trained immigrants and refugees—and to issue recommendations for reform.
But after a compromise was reached that removed many amendments from the NDAA, Congress passed a revised version of the bill that did not include the study.
To the two million college-educated immigrants and refugees currently living in the U.S. who are unemployed or underemployed, and our communities, this was a setback. According to the Migration Policy Institute, at least 60 percent of these individuals hold international credentials, and 165,000 have health-related degrees.
“This measure held incredible promise to benefit Afghans who have recently arrived in the U.S. with international education and training,” said Jina Krause-Vilmar, president and CEO of Upwardly Global, an IMPRINT member organization that helped lead efforts to pass the bill. “In recent months, our staff have visited military bases to provide career services to Afghan evacuees. We’ve seen the need firsthand. Unless systems are reformed, newcomers with valuable experience in health care, engineering, and education will join the millions of immigrants and refugees already living in the U.S. who face unemployment and underemployment.”
An Opportunity for Reform
Both H.R. 4179 and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 3157, the Bridging the Gap for New Americans Act, were introduced with bipartisan support, reflecting deepening consensus that the U.S. workforce cannot afford to have millions of workers facing barriers to commensurate employment. Employers are struggling with high levels of job openings and worker turnover, especially in critical industries like health care. Communities across the U.S. need the talents and experience internationally trained workers have to offer.
Workers with essential skills–like the Afghan physician who is now stocking shelves in Virginia–are ready to fill critical gaps in the workforce and bolster our long-term economic recovery. Congress can–and must–pass this legislation.
Join our #UntappedTalent: Inclusive Economies for All campaign to call on Congress to pass this legislation and to advance policies that are inclusive of all workers.