Published May 16, 2013
Highly skilled immigrants run into roadblocks when trying to practice their profession in the United States, a new report says.
The report, by the Migration Policy Institute, says foreign-trained immigrants encounter problems when trying to get validation in this country for training and work experience acquired overseas.
The obstacles are particularly substantial in certain fields, such as engineering and health, the study says.
“Because of the United States’ decentralized federal system, no single structure governs professional certification in regulated occupations,” the report says, “resulting in a profusion of overlapping and sometimes contradictory national, state and local rules and exams that are often costly, complicated and time-consuming for immigrant professionals to navigate.”
More than 1.6 million college-educated immigrants in the United States were underemployed or unemployed as of 2011, the report says.
The release of the study came as the Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would expand visas for such high skilled foreign nationals as engineers and programmers, raising the annual cap from the current level of 65,000 to about 180,000.
Businesses have pushed Congress to ease restrictions on bringing in workers from overseas for certain jobs that employers say are hard to fill with Americans.
The MPI report said that many foreign-trained professionals who live in the United States must go through re-certification before they can practice their craft here. Those who come from war-torn countries often find it nearly impossible to obtain documentation that can prove their training or work experience, the report said.
Even when they provide documentation of their training and experience, many are met with skepticism.
“Employers frequently discount the value of overseas experience, and regulatory bodies often do not count it toward professional certification requirements,” the report said. “That means that experienced professionals may be required to return to entry-level positions to demonstrate their competence.”
The problem is especially vexing for health professionals, the authors wrote. Retraining for engineers is somewhat simpler because many can find employment even if they do not have professional licensing, the report said.
“On both sides of the Atlantic, evidence abounds that immigrants are often prevented from putting their skills to productive use because their qualifications, experience and knowledge are not readily recognized in their destination country,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “The resulting waste of human capital represents a loss not just to these immigrants, but also to employers, host communities and our economy.”