If immigrants have graduate or postgraduate degrees in their home countries, why don’t they apply here?

Did you know the Migration Policy Institute estimates 20-25% of college educated immigrants are underemployed? This means despite their education in their native countries, some immigrants are working jobs they’re overqualified for while others struggle to find employment.

Why is it so difficult for immigrants to obtain meaningful work that aligns with their education and professional experience in the U.S.? Let’s discuss.

Licensure barriers

Medical, legal and other technical fields require advanced degrees, certification and licensure. The governing organizations in the United States that oversee these professions set the requirements on which credentials are legitimate and also determine what internationally obtained qualifications transfer to American institutions. Trying to advocate for your international license to practice within your profession can result in an expensive, time-consuming process that causes many immigrants to leave their professional fields for more immediately profitable employment opportunities. Even if they are able to get their licenses transferred, employers may choose not to recognize degrees from unknown universities or work experience from unfamiliar companies or industries.

Legal status

Immigration status can also complicate employment. The U.S. gives out approximately 140,000 work visas per year to highly skilled immigrants whose expertise falls into specific categories. With a work visa, immigrants already have a job in place upon arrival. However, while 140,000 work visas sounds like a large amount, this pales in comparison to the estimated two million immigrants who are experiencing underemployment and skill underutilization. These immigrants are in the U.S. under a different visa type and are required to apply for work authorization. Once they are approved, they must enter the U.S. workforce and go through the typical job application process instead of receiving job placement like those with work visas, often causing them to face barriers to career advancement.

Cultural and language barriers

While immigrating to a new country is difficult, assimilating to a new culture poses its own unique set of challenges. Whether it’s creating resumes, applying and interviewing for jobs or networking, it’s an adjustment to fall into place in the U.S. workforce. Additionally, there are societal norms in America – shaking hands, eye contact, smiling, etc. – that are unfamiliar. In addition to a potential language barrier, immigrants are often disadvantaged when it comes to the U.S. labor market.

At HopeWorks, we work with immigrants to tackle these hurdles head on. Through our AESL program, we not only teach English, but we help build resumes and prepare for job interviews, educate on American history and politics, and assist with the challenge of cultural assimilation. For more information about our AESL program, visit our website.