When Skilled Immigrants Have Other Options

No longer is the U.S. the routine top choice for trained professionals wanting to settle in a new land.

The Statue of Liberty is seen on October 13, 2013 in New York City.
National Journal
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Paul Feltman
Oct. 22, 2013, 2 a.m.

Would it sur­prise you to know that most po­ten­tial im­mig­rants don’t want to come to Amer­ica? A world­wide poll con­duc­ted by Gal­lup shows that while more than 600 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als want to emig­rate, the United States is not where most of them want to go.

Paul Feltman is director of Global Talent Bridge initiative, a nonprofit that works to integrate and credential skilled workers from other nations who want to pursue their career in the U.S. (Courtesy Imprint Project) Courtesy Imprint Project

In fact, more than three-quar­ters of re­spond­ents — 77 per­cent — named a coun­try out­side the U.S. as their top-choice des­tin­a­tion. Of­ten they chose to go some­where close, but when the sky’s the lim­it, their an­swers re­flect a stark new real­ity: The U.S. is no longer the de­fault op­tion for am­bi­tious young im­mig­rants, in­clud­ing those trained as en­gin­eers, doc­tors, and oth­er pro­fes­sion­als. Paul Felt­man is dir­ect­or of Glob­al Tal­ent Bridge ini­ti­at­ive, a non­profit that works to in­teg­rate and cre­den­tial skilled work­ers from oth­er na­tions who want to pur­sue their ca­reer in the U.S. (Cour­tesy Im­print Pro­ject)

In­stead, we’re com­pet­ing for their at­ten­tion and tal­ent. Coun­tries like Canada, Aus­tralia, and even Ger­many are pro­act­ively en­cour­aging skilled work­ers to choose their na­tions for a new home. These coun­tries of­ten sweeten the pot by of­fer­ing ser­vices to help new ar­rivals find jobs and be­come in­teg­rated.

Grow­ing Com­pet­i­tion for Skilled Mi­grants

Amer­ic­an busi­ness and polit­ic­al lead­ers are of­ten sur­prised to dis­cov­er that po­ten­tial mi­grants can take a quick quiz at a Ca­na­dian gov­ern­ment web­site and find out in a few minutes if they may qual­i­fy for an im­mig­ra­tion visa. For ex­ample, they’re amazed to learn that the Aus­trali­an gov­ern­ment came to Hou­s­ton last spring to re­cruit en­gin­eers eli­gible to work there.

But as the dir­ect­or of the non­profit Glob­al Tal­ent Bridge ini­ti­at­ive, I’m no longer sur­prised. More than 60,000 people a year come to GTB and its par­ent or­gan­iz­a­tion, World Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices, to ob­tain a third-party eval­u­ation of their in­ter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tion­al cre­den­tials.

People like Paul, a mas­ter’s-level elec­tric­al en­gin­eer from Ro­mania, who needed a way to demon­strate his edu­ca­tion to Amer­ic­an em­ploy­ers in the ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing field. Or Maryam, a psy­cho­lo­gist from Ethiopia who needed to veri­fy her cre­den­tials for a state li­cens­ing board so she could pur­sue work as a school psy­cho­lo­gist.

Provid­ing they pass our eval­u­ation pro­cess, these in­di­vidu­als em­bark on the new mi­gra­tion jour­ney. Typ­ic­ally, they are seek­ing pro­fes­sion­al em­ploy­ment or ad­di­tion­al high­er-edu­ca­tion op­por­tun­it­ies or veri­fic­a­tion. In both cases, the world of choices open to them is very dif­fer­ent from just 20 or 30 years ago.

Today’s mi­grants have ac­cess to a ro­bust pipeline of news and in­form­a­tion about po­ten­tial des­tin­a­tions, long be­fore they ar­rive. The wide­spread use of so­cial me­dia means that a new­comer’s per­cep­tions — pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive — can ri­co­chet back to his home coun­try in minutes.

Glob­al Changes, Loc­al Im­plic­a­tions

So what does this mean for the United States? First, we need to aban­don the as­sump­tion that in­ter­na­tion­al tal­ent will simply con­tin­ue to ar­rive. Today’s im­mig­rants have op­tions, and they’re not afraid to ex­er­cise them.

Second, we need to think through how im­mig­rant tal­ent fits in­to an Amer­ic­an fu­ture. Are we in­ter­ested in more en­tre­pren­eurs? How about more doc­tors? Already, nearly 1 in 4 phys­i­cians in the U.S. are for­eign-born. Giv­en our aging pop­u­la­tion and the grow­ing num­ber of Amer­ic­ans covered un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, de­mand for health pro­fes­sion­als is con­tinu­ing to in­crease. In­deed, the As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al Col­leges es­tim­ates that the U.S. will need 60,000 ad­di­tion­al phys­i­cians by 2015. Hav­ing a clear vis­ion for the roles we as a so­ci­ety want im­mig­rants to play will help us to de­vel­op smart strategies for at­tract­ing them.

Third, it’s time to up­date our ap­proach to im­mig­rant in­teg­ra­tion. While a lais­sez-faire ap­proach may have been ap­pro­pri­ate a few dec­ades ago, these days we need pur­pose­ful strategies to en­sure that new­comers are rap­idly and suc­cess­fully in­cor­por­ated in­to our eco­nomy.

The Next Amer­ic­an Chapter

For­tu­nately, there are solu­tions on the ho­ri­zon. IM­PRINT (for Im­mii­grant Pro­fes­sion­al In­teg­ra­tion) is a na­tion­al co­ali­tion of non­profit groups work­ing on skilled im­mig­rant is­sues. It has iden­ti­fied an ar­ray of prac­tic­al strategies to help the U.S. re­tain its lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion in at­tract­ing and cap­it­al­iz­ing on in­ter­na­tion­al tal­ent.

Some are already be­ing im­ple­men­ted by for­ward-think­ing cit­ies and states. Here are just a few:

My or­gan­iz­a­tion, along with col­leagues in the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Cre­den­tial Eval­u­ation Ser­vices, works on identi­fy­ing both op­por­tun­it­ies and chal­lenges in in­teg­rat­ing skilled im­mig­rants in­to our eco­nomy. It’s grat­i­fy­ing to see this is­sue gain­ing trac­tion, but there is still much to be done.

The U.S. spent the past cen­tury en­joy­ing its status as the world’s fa­vor­ite des­tin­a­tion. If we wish to re­tain that title, we need to en­sure that our com­munit­ies are poised to in­cor­por­ate today’s tal­en­ted new ar­rivals.

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