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Brain Waste in the US Begins by Denying Opportunities to Foreign Talent

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding immigrants in the United States is the idea that they are all here to do labor intensive work, because they have no education or intellectual skills.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We do indeed find large numbers of immigrants in agricultural work or in meatpacking districts. The problem is that we also see large numbers of foreign doctors, nurses, teachers, chemists, and lawyers driving taxis, cleaning houses, doing construction work, or working at restaurants, not because they are intellectually unable to integrate themselves into the professional workforce, but because in many, many cases they are not allowed to apply their hard-earned knowledge here in the United States.

The National Center on Immigration Integration Policy, a project by the Migration Policy Institute, recently published the following alarming results:

"The foreign born who are college-educated, particularly those who earned their degrees abroad, face difficult challenges obtaining employment that fully utilizes their talents. These include difficulties gaining recognition of professional experiences and academic credentials earned from educational institutions abroad, acquiring professional-level English skills, navigating costly or time-consuming recertification processes, and building professional networks and U.S. job search skills.

”The Migration Policy Institute's National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy first quantified the scope of this phenomenon of "brain waste" in the United States in 2008. In a new series of fact sheets issued today, we provide updated estimates of the number of college-educated immigrants, as well as native-born adults, ages 25 and older who are either unemployed or have jobs that are significantly below their education and skill levels. The fact sheets offer brain waste estimates for the United States overall as well as for the 12 states with the largest number of college-educated immigrants in the civilian labor force; they also examine underutilization of education among professionals with engineering, nursing, and teaching degrees at the undergraduate level..."

Some of the main constraints educated immigrants face are lack of professional-level English language skills, costly and time-consuming recertification processes, and recognition of professional experiences and academic credentials from educational institutions in other countries.

According to MPI, 7.2 million foreign college graduates are in low-skilled jobs, and this means we are wasting their talent. The 12 states with the largest college-educated immigrant populations in the civilian workforce in the US are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and the State of Washington. As an example, in California alone, almost 390,000 college educated immigrants aged 25 and older are either underemployed or definitely unemployed.

Organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and Washington State's OneAmerica recently joined MPI to discuss how to address this brain waste among educated immigrants.

In the case of Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, there are approximately 47,000 highly skilled immigrants who are facing barriers that prevent them to work in their fields of expertise. in 2013 a partnership was established between the state and Upwardly Global, a non-profit organization that aims to provide these professional immigrants with online licensing guides for 10 professions such as accounting, architecture, dentistry, law, teaching and others. These guides help those professional immigrants legally authorized to work in this country to target their specific job searches, to network successfully, and to obtain a job according with their college education.

"While some Michigan employers struggle to find skilled workers, there are situations like an immigrant cab driver with his Ph.D., or an engineer serving coffee at Starbucks", states Melissa Anders of MLive Media Group.

Gov. Snyder is actively trying to attract foreign talent to Michigan, and having those highly-skilled immigrants already here working outside their own professions is a waste of talent and money to the state.

New Economy Initiative (NEI), sponsored by several foundations in the United States, such as The Community Foundation for Southeast Detroit, The Kresge Foundation, the William Davidson Foundation in Troy, The McGregor Fund in Detroit, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, and the Skillman Foundation in Detroit, presently supports with a grant of $50,000 Upwardly Global Initiative's "Immigrant Credentialing and Licensing Program". This program aims to rightly place highly educated immigrants in positions where their talents will not be wasted, and they can become an asset to Michigan's economy.