Unlocking Skills: Successful Initiatives for Integrating Foreign-Trained Immigrant Professionals

Report Author: 
Margie McHugh & Madeleine Morawski
Original Date of Publication: 
2017 Feb

Nearly 2 million college-educated immigrants and refugees in the United States are not working in high-skill jobs despite years of education and work experience. This report examines program initiatives and policy reforms designed to reduce this waste of skill and economic potential. These innovations are drawn from the top finishers in the Migration Policy Institute's E Pluribus Unum Prize competition, which recognizes outstanding immigrant integration programs. Immigrants trained in such fields as civil engineering, education, and medicine are filling lower-skilled and often low-wage jobs in the United States. This problem is greater for immigrants who obtained their education and training outside of the United States, as 29 percent of foreign-trained immigrants are unemployed or underemployed, compared to 21 percent of U.S.-trained immigrants and 18 percent of native-born persons. The authors recommend reforming state licensing laws to remove unnecessary requirements on foreign-trained immigrants, as well as increasing advanced English language and bridge programs, which aim to help immigrants gain the necessary professional skills and English proficiency to successfully navigate the job market and re-enter the workforce. The report also suggests that the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education lead an effort to identify successful program models and closely monitor efforts to serve the high-skilled immigrant population. In addition, monitoring and addressing employer bias and expanding mutual recognition agreements to harmonize qualifications can help to reduce the problem of  "brain waste." (Christy Box for The ILC Public Education Institute)

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McHugh, Margie and Madeleine Morawski. Unlocking Skills: Successful Initiatives for Integrating Foreign-Trained Immigrant Professionals. Washington DC: Migration Policy Institute. Available here: 


Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute