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Integration Institute: Workforce Development

Immigrants and the Massachusetts Workforce

Massachusetts has one of the most highly-skilled foreign born workforces in the U.S., with one in three immigrants (34%) coming with a bachelor's degree or an advanced degree earned abroad. Once they arrive here, however, as elsewhere in the country, these immigrants confront many obstacles to putting their degrees and skills to work, including language barriers, unfamiliarity with U.S. work culture, and the complexity and expense of recertifying in their professions.

Between 2009 and 2011, some 46,000 immigrants in Massachusetts—or 20% of the immigrant college-educated population—were either unemployed or “mal-employed” (i.e., working in low-skilled and lower wage jobs that did not use their education and skills). For those who earned their degrees outside the U.S. the situation is likely to be even worse: nationally, 36% of immigrants who earned their degree abroad are mal-employed; for those with college degrees from Africa or Latin America the rate grows to 46%.

This skill underutilization impacts not just these immigrants and their families but the state as a whole, which loses the benefits of their training and skill--often in high demand healthcare and technical professions--as well as the cultural awareness and global perspective they bring to an increasingly diverse society and economy.

NAII's workforce development project focuses on addressing the integration barriers facing immigrant professionals in Massachusetts and promoting their ability to re-enter their original professions or find new pathways that take advantage of their education and experience. The Institute draws on the expertise of the NAII Advisory Board as well as other experts in workforce development to arrive at strategies for building structures and programs to ease professional integration and advancing policy recommendations for safely and effectively streamlining processes such as credentialing, professional training, and language acquisition.

The Institute will advance these goals through work in the following areas:

Resources and Programs for Immigrant Professionals

The Institute's Back to the Office web portal for immigrant professionals seeks to address the career barriers facing immigrant and refugee professionals in Massachusetts and help them get recredentialed in their professions--or find new career pathways that leverage their advanced training and experience. The online resources on this page offer information, training materials, and links to organizations that can help skilled immigrants as well as career advisors and educators better understand and navigate options for professional recertification and alternative career pathways. Back to the Office will also offer career workshops for immigrant professionals and career advisors and host online webinars on a wide range of issues, as well as program development support to community-based organizations, career centers, job training agencies, and other groups to help them build their capacity to respond to the needs of this population.

Improved Access to ESOL Instruction

High level English language proficiency is essential for the ability of immigrants trained abroad to obtain employment that fully uses their skills. Enhancing ESOL access, including to classes targeted at particular industry sectors, is therefore key to any effort to combat the skill underutilization of immigrant professionals. Drawing on the expertise of stakeholders--including ESOL providers and funders, employers, labor unions, educational institutions and professional associations, and the English Works Campaign in which MIRA is a partner--the Institute will work to promote and expand successful models of ESOL instruction, including contextualized and vocationally oriented classes focused on the needs of immigrant professionals trained abroad.

To learn more about free English classes in your city or town, consult MIRA's ESOL Resource page.

Labor Market Research on Immigrants in Massachusetts

The Institute has recently published a study on Getting to Work: Boosting Massachusetts’ Workforce Competitiveness via Immigrants, Education and Training. At any given moment, there are over 100,000 job openings in Massachusetts, especially in persistent fields such as nursing, technology and human services. At the same time, unemployment rates are still at high levels. With promising practices across the state and in various sectors and skill-levels, Massachusetts is poised to meet the challenges of training and matching unemployed and recently-arrived immigrants to critical vacancies in the short-term. Immigrants, both skilled and less-skilled, are associated with job creation for native-born in aggregate, according to national trends.

Being among the top states with high levels of foreign-born residents, policymakers, businesses and educators in Massachusetts will have to maintain its competitiveness by integrating all human capital, especially in the absence of federal immigration reform. Moreover, recalibrating the state’s educational, non-profit and private institutions to leverage high-growth industries such as technology, healthcare and non-profits could boost hiring and investment in workforce development in the medium- to long-term.

Integration of High-Skilled Immigrants

Working with academic, professional, and state agency partners, the Institute is also pursuing research into the labor market and professional challenges facing high-skilled and professional immigrants in Massachusetts, in a range of sectors and occupations.

The Institute has recently completed a study on Tapping the Potential of Foreign-Trained Engineering and Health Care Professionals in Massachusetts. The report looks at underutilization of foreign-trained professionals in Massachusetts in the engineering and health care fields. View or download a copy this report here (and Appendices including detailed licensing requrements here).

With support from a grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Institute will also be pursuing community-based research into the supply side of the labor market equation, connecting with immigrant groups, employers, ESOL providers and higher education institutions to develop a clearer and more nuanced picture of who these high-skilled immigrants are, their areas of professional specialization, and the obstacles they report in accessing pathways to professional integration in the U.S.

Policy Recommendations and Advocacy

Drawing on its research, program development, and stakeholder partnerships, the Institute will work to develop and advocate for changes both in state policy and in professional licensing and certification requirements that will open up occupational pathways and provide financial and other supports for qualified high-skilled immigrants in the Commonwealth. Click here for a recent Institute presentation to the Boston Healthcare Careers Consortium on advancing the integration of immigrant professionals in the healthcare sector.

Our research and ongoing advocacy will also highlight the contributions of immigrants at all levels of the state labor force, and the role of immigrant workers in helping the Commonwealth meet its current and future workforce needs and remain competitive in rapidly changing economic environment. These issues are addressed in a recent Institute white paper, Getting to Work: Boosting Massachusetts’ Workforce Competitiveness via Immigrants, Education and Training.

A Few Facts about High-Skilled Immigrants in Massachusetts

Educational Attainment of the Foreign Born 25 and older in the labor force (654,000):

The Foreign-Born College-Educated in Massachusetts:

  • Are Ethnically Diverse:  42% non-Latino White, 37% Asian, 10% Latino, 10% non-Latino black
  • Have Higher Relative Educational Attainment: 20% of foreign born college-educated have professional or doctorate degrees, compared to 12% of native born college educated
  • Are Younger: 42% of foreign born college-educated are 25-39, compared to 32% of native-born
  • Face Challenges in English Proficiency and Skill Underutilization:
    • 26% of foreign born college-educated in MA are limited English proficient
    • Over 20% of foreign born college-educated in MA (est. 46,000) are subject to “skill underutilization”—i.e., are either unemployed, underemployed or working at low-skilled occupations—compared to 16.4% of native born
 

Massachusetts boasts a uniquely diverse and hard-working foreign born labor force, including more than one-third of immigrants over 25 who have a college or professional degree. Immigrant and refugee professionals--doctors, teachers, engineers, accountants, and many others--arrive in Massachusetts eager to restart their careers and contribute to their families, communities and the Bay State's skills-driven global economy.

All too often, however, these immigrants confront significant obstacles to putting their degrees and skills to work, including language barriers, unfamiliarity with U.S. work culture, lack of access to professional networks, and the complexity and expense of recertifying in their professions. Nationally, 36 percent of foreign born residents who earned their college and professional credentials abroad are either unemployed or work in low-skilled and lower wage jobs that do not use their education and skills--and almost half of those with college degrees from Latin America or Africa.

MIRA's Back to the Office initiative seeks to address the career barriers facing immigrant and refugee professionals in Massachusetts and help them get recredentialed in their professions--or find new career pathways that leverage their advanced training and experience. The online resources below offer information, training materials, and links to organizations that can help skilled immigrants as well as career advisors and educators better understand and navigate options for professional recertification and alternative career pathways. Back to the Office will also offer career workshops for immigrant professionals and career advisors and host online webinars on a wide range of issues. We also offer program development support to community-based organizations, career centers, job training agencies, and other groups to help them build their capacity to respond to the needs of this population.

For more information about "Back to the Office" email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or click This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to subscribe to our email updates.

The resource links below include the following topics:

Professional Licensing and Career Pathways in Massachusetts and the U.S.
  • Professional Licensing Requirements for Engineers and Healthcare Professionals in Massachusetts (MIRA Coalition) Provides an overview of the state licensing requirements for engineers, physicians, physician assistants, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and medical technologists/clinical scientists, including the steps, time, and costs for foreign-trained professionals to become relicensed in these professions.
  • Professional Licensing Resources (Global Talent Bridge) Explains the complex process of professional licensing and certification in the U.S. for a wide range of jobs and professions, including health professions, accountant, architect, engineer, lawyer, teacher, social worker, and psychologist. The site provides information and resources to help immigrant professionals and those serving them better understand licensing and certification pathways, opportunities, obstacles, and career alternatives.
  • Licensing Guides by Profession (Upwardly Global) Describes steps, time and costs required to earn a state professional license or credential to return to the full practice of a regulated profession in ten different fields, including accountant, architect, dentist, engineer, IT professional, lawyer, nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, physician, and teacher. The site also discusses options for pursuing alternative professional pathways. Guides are available for four states--California, Illinois, New York and Michigan--but much the information is applicable to professions in Massachusetts.
  • Licensing Guides for Refugee Professionals (Higher Advantage) Guides for foreign-trained professionals seeking to practice in the United States, including engineers, teachers, physicians and nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and accountants. The guides describe the structure and future of the profession and workforce composition, as well as the skills, training, and credentials needed to advance in the field.
  • Online Training Program for Skilled immigrants (Upwardly Global) This training program is designed to provide recently-arrived skilled immigrants and refugees with the techniques and cultural orientation they need to become competitive in the U.S. job market and rebuild their professional careers in this country. Participants have access to live online workshops, classrooms, discussion forums and UpGlo’s resume database and job board. They will also receive resume-writing and interview coaching support.
  • Job Search and Career Planning Information (Global Talent Bridge) Information and tools that address challenges high-skilled immigrant jobseekers often face in finding U.S. employment opportunities, including understanding the U.S. job search and career planning process.
  • Guide to Success in the U.S. Workplace (Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians) "How to Succeed in the Workplace: A Career Guide for the Immigrant Professional" offers a guide to U.S. business and workplace culture, and includes useful tips to help guide immigrant professionals through a professional job search in the United States.
Resources for Credential Evaluation
  • National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) An association of credential evaluation services committed to formulating and maintaining ethical standards in the field of foreign educational evaluation, individuals can use NACES to find reliable credential evaluation services.
  • World Education Services (WES) The leading international credential evaluation service in North America and a member of NACES. Individuals educated outside the U.S. can present WES evaluation reports to demonstrate their academic achievements when seeking opportunities for further education, professional licensing, employment or immigration opportunities in the U.S.

Accessing Educational Opportunities

Massachusetts Healthcare & Life Sciences Training Programs

Massachusetts Professional Networking Resources

Webinars on Working with Skilled Immigrants

   WES Global Talent Bridge

   IMPRINT

Resources for Adult Educators and Community Colleges

Organizations Supporting High-Skilled Immigrant Integration
  • The Welcome Back Initiative Assists internationally trained healthcare workers in utilizing their experience and training to fill the need for culturally competent healthcare in the United States—in 9 cities (including the Boston Welcome Back Center).
  • Upwardly Global Helps work-authorized, skilled immigrants rebuild their professional careers in the U.S. through its job seeker services and a robust employer network, with national online presence, focusing on engineering, financial services & healthcare.
  • World Education Services (WES) A non-profit organization that provides research about international education and trends and offers expert credential evaluation services.
  • WES Global Talent Bridge Offers seminars, webinars, online resources, technical assistance and policy advocacy to help skilled immigrants navigate education & job search options.
  • IMPRINT A coalition of national/regional groups (including the Welcome Back Initiative, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Upwardly Global, WES and the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education) supporting local, state and national efforts  to advance policies and best practices .
  • The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians Regional non-profit serving all work-authorized immigrants in Greater Philadelphia with job search assistance, ESOL classes, employer placements, training & resource referrals, legal services, small business support, public policy research, community outreach.
  • Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) Raises awareness of the important role community colleges play in delivering educational opportunities to immigrants and promotes the expansion of quality programs and services for immigrant students.

Research and Policy Analysis

  • Tapping the Potential of Foreign-Trained Engineering and Healthcare Professionals in Massachusetts (MIRA Coalition, 2012). This path-breaking report looks at the skill underutilization and reredentialing challenges facing foreign-trained immigrant professionals in Massachusetts in the engineering and healthcare fields, and provides detailed guides to the procedures, time, and costs of licensing for engineering and healthcare professionals in the state.
  • Uneven Progress: The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States (Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix, 2008, Migration Policy Institute). Using national survey data, this exploratory study provides a deep and far-reaching assessment of the "brain-waste" phenomenon in the United States—a serious waste of human capital resulting from the unemployment or underemployment of highly skilled college-educated immigrants.
  • "Immigration, Skills, and Mobility in the Transatlantic Labor Market" Project (Migration Policy Institute). Five reports (2012-2013) from this project investigate how governments can improve the recognition of foreign qualifications through domestic public policies and through international cooperation, analyzing how European Union and U.S. policymakers learn from policy experience to date, and how they can cooperate more effectively on this issue.
  • Drexel University Studies of Skilled Immigrants in the United States (2012-2013). Includes five studies and a summary report by Neeta Fogg and Paul Harrington (Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA), based on data from the 2003 release of the National Survey of College Students. Supported by a grant from the Office for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, these studies offer the most detailed and data-driven analysis available of labor market pathways for foreign-educated college-educated immigrants in the U.S. The series includes:

The Earnings of Foreign-Educated College Graduates: An Examination of the Determinants of the Hourly Earnings of College-Educated Immigrants” (2012)

“Findings from an Examination of the Labor Force Participation of College-Educated Immigrants in the United States” (2012)

“Unemployment Problems Among College-Educated Immigrants in the United States” (2012) 

“Involuntary Part-Time Employment Problems Among College-Educated Immigrants in the United States” (2012)

“Mal-Employment Problems Among College-Educated Immigrants in the United States” (2012)

“Labor Market Underutilization Problems among College-Educated Immigrants in the United States” (Summary Report, 2013)