by Lina Duffy
“Immigrants with university degrees have no trouble finding suitable employment in the United States.”
You hear this sentiment all the time. I thought it was true too. Then in 2014, I moved to the United States and found out that this is a myth.
I work at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, where we see countless individuals walking through our doors, unable to find meaningful employment on their own. Most have working proficiency in English. Many have already had their credentials evaluated. All of them have transferable skills. So what’s really going on here?
Experts say around 80 percent of jobs are not posted online. That means competition for the 20 percent advertised is extremely fierce. Let’s break down the 20 percent further: A report published by Glassdoor shows that the average job opening receives 250 resumes, and out of those, only 2 percent of applicants are called for a job interview.
“The reality is that the odds are stacked against the newcomer.”
These figures are staggering. Immigrants come to the United States with little or no network, which means they do not have access to the hidden jobs market. As for the 20 percent of jobs that are advertised, an immigrant is going to find it very hard to compete against a resume that boasts U.S. work experience or a U.S. university degree. The reality is that the odds are stacked against the newcomer.
A significant number of this population become relegated to low-skilled jobs or are unable to find work. That’s 2 million immigrants, to be exact—one out of every four—whose knowledge and experience aren’t being utilized, according to a Migration Policy Institute report. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Tales of highly educated immigrants stuck in occupations that don’t require university degrees have become a part of American folklore. I have recently been driven around in a Lyft by a Congolese lawyer and have been served food by an engineer from India. I’m sure you have had similar experiences.
“When you go for months on end being unable to find suitable employment, it erodes your self-worth.”
Brain waste doesn’t just affect the individual’s wallet. Many leave behind family, friends, and networks to come to the U.S. It is daunting enough to start afresh in a new country. But when you’re unable to find meaningful employment, you’re essentially being stripped of your work experience and education, which many consider to be a large part of their self-identity. When you go for months on end being unable to find suitable employment, it erodes your self-worth.
Brain waste also affects the community. If the individual doesn’t earn a salary (or the salary they should or could be earning), they are not able to go out and spend on goods and services in their community. Cities are affected as they lose out on tax income. New American Economy reports that brain waste costs the nation $40 billion in forgone federal, state, and local tax payments.
“However, beyond teaching the hard skills, what IPP does is allow individuals to rebuild their self-worth and to have a network of peers and mentors to lean on as they—as a group—work through their challenges together.”
At the Welcoming Center, over 40 percent of people come through our doors with a university degree. Every single one of them is either underemployed or unemployed. In 2014, we launched the International Professionals Program (IPP) to provide immigrant professionals with the skills they need to find employment commensurate with their work experience and educational background. Some of the skills IPP imparts are how to network in the U.S., how to deliver an effective elevator pitch, and how to craft a great American-style resume. However, beyond teaching the hard skills, what IPP does is allow individuals to rebuild their self-worth and to have a network of peers and mentors to lean on as they—as a group—work through their challenges together.
The economic impact of IPP is also worth noting. Recently, Econsult Solutions carried out a study to find how the Welcoming Center is changing the trajectory of a person’s earning potential and how this is improving the city and state economy.
The Econsult Solutions study found that if funded by the City of Philadelphia, the cost of IPP is recouped by increased tax revenues within eight years, and all increased tax revenue after that is net new revenue for the City. That means training immigrant professionals to find meaningful employment is a win-win proposition.
“High-skilled immigrants don’t always land high-skill jobs. The good news? They can, if given the right support.”
High-skilled immigrants don’t always land high-skill jobs. The good news? They can, if given the right support. Each and every one of us can make a difference. If you are in a position to affect policy or funding, be the voice for immigrants. If you are an employer, hire immigrants and recognize their skills and their drive to succeed. Even if you are just a person who wants to see an immigrant succeed in their new home, invite them to have coffee or tea. By reducing social isolation, you can accelerate immigrant integration.