As 2020 drew to a close, a diverse group of service providers and partner agencies gathered virtually at the third annual Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP) convening to reflect on a historic year and pave pathways forward on behalf of internationally trained immigrant and refugee professionals. The convening was held in conjunction with the first WES Immigrant Economic Integration Summit, a four-day virtual forum that drew participation from 350 organizations, institutions, and government agencies, representing 43 states and regions.
By providing a working group format designed to promote collaboration and partnerships, SIIP supports communities that serve skilled immigrants. Each community in the SIIP cohort advances its immigrant and refugee workforce integration efforts by interacting with the sites of previous cohorts and organizations that provide specialized technical assistance, including the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, National Skills Coalition, Upwardly Global, Welcome Back Initiative, and the Welcoming Center (formerly the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians).
In the face of demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the current SIIP cohort—representing the cities of Atlanta; Buffalo, N.Y.; Cincinnati; Salem, Ore.; and Tulsa, Okla., along with the states of Indiana, Nevada, and New Jersey—offered a space for communities to look to one another for guidance and support. In their regular meetings, the cohort shared ideas for improving services, strengthening language access, implementing policy innovations, and especially for removing licensing barriers to careers in health care and promoting inclusive workforce development.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly highlighted the need to push forward even more robust efforts in immigrant integration,” noted Charina de Asis, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office for New Americans. “As Nevada’s ONA begins to lay down the groundwork for immigrant workforce development in the state, it is wonderful to have a network that holds so much knowledge in this space to lean on and get guidance.”
Past SIIP convenings have enabled sites to meet in person as well as to learn from Canadian program partners. This year’s virtual format, however, allowed for highly customized workshops that were targeted to the current moment. “The momentum from SIIP’s third year is really gratifying to see,” observed Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition. “I’m excited to witness SIIP alumni sharing tools and ideas with their newer colleagues, and as we head into a new federal administration, it is especially powerful to have these strong local examples on the ground to point to.”
One such program is Welcoming Atlanta, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs led by Senior Program Manager Valerie Mills. “The SIIP network is an indispensable resource given that it offers access to tried and tested innovative ways for eliminating some of the roadblocks faced by internationally trained immigrants navigating the American employment process,” Mills noted. “Participating helps me understand that the challenges and hurdles in skilled immigrant integration are not unique to my city.” Welcoming Atlanta has been working on leveraging SIIP expertise to better connect skilled immigrants with employers and workforce services, as well as to prepare local career pathways guides based on the national career pathways e-guides developed by WES Global Talent Bridge.
The annual convening also provides alumni sites such as the Office of Global Michigan, a 2018 program participant, the opportunity to benefit from collaborating with newer sites. Karen Phillippi, director of New Americans Office of Global Michigan, noted that “the peer-to-peer learning and sharing have been among the best things for us to come out of SIIP.” As a result of the convening, her office will be following up with programs in Louisville and Cincinnati and continue to exchange ideas with them.
The annual SIIP convening is just one of the ways WES supports programs that are working to break down barriers for the estimated two million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. labor market who are either unemployed or underemployed (source: Migration Policy Institute). As Leticia Calvillo of Flourish Tulsa observed, “During such an isolating year, the SIIP convening was a great reminder that we are not alone in our efforts to assist internationally trained immigrants to reconnect with their careers.”