Brain Waste

Researchers find high-skill immigrants are often forced to labor at low skill jobs

It can be one of the most frustrating challenges that new Americans face.  Often their academic or professional training is not recognized in their new home, and so they must labor at jobs far below their skill level.

Thus do engineers become cab drivers and doctors become physician assistants.

Researchers call this mismatch “brain waste.” A recent study by the Migration Policy Institute found it to be pervasive across the land, affecting nearly two million college-educated immigrants and costing communities billions of dollars in untapped potential.

Study co-author Margie McHugh, director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, urges states and communities to take action.

“When highly qualified doctors, engineers, social workers, teachers and other professionals are unable to utilize the academic and professional skills they brought with them to the United States, nobody benefits,” she said in a press release.

High-skill immigrants and refugees confront several obstacles to a professional comeback, including new licensing requirements, the lack of universal accreditation standards, often a language barrier and maybe employer bias.

The researchers suggest states and policy makers help their economies be more competitive by guiding high-skill immigrants back to productive careers. They urge business leaders to support efforts to harmonize qualifications across accreditation bodies, and to give international talent a chance.

They also urge communities to adopt “bridge programs” that help immigrant professionals gain the licenses and accreditations they need to re-launch.

“This report shows that small, targeted interventions can often lead to big payoffs in reducing brain waste—and that the field is poised on multiple fronts to unlock the skills of immigrants and allow families, employers and local economies to benefit,” McHugh added.

The report singles out a Michigan hotline that connects immigrant professionals with state licensing specialists, as well as a California program that provides career counselors to help identify alternative professions for immigrants who likely cannot return to their previous careers.

At Global Cleveland, international newcomers are matched with a professional connection volunteer who works in their target field to assist in navigating the process of finding or growing a career in Northeast Ohio.  

You can find the complete report, Unlocking Skills: Successful Initiatives for Integrating Foreign-Trained Immigrant Professionals, at