Led by welcoming agencies across Ohio, state agencies are seeking ways to speed skilled immigrants back to their professions

A statewide welcoming initiative is gaining momentum as Ohio’s major cities share ideas for attracting international talent to boost the state’s economy.

Members of the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives Network, including Global Cleveland, met in Columbus July 19 and shared their collective vision with key state officials. The aim is to shape policies that would make it easier for immigrants and refugees to apply their talents and succeed in their new home.

“It says a lot that people are sitting down and having these conversations,” said Jessica Whale, the director of global talent and economic development for Global Cleveland. “The group has been able to identify needs and trends we would like to address at the state level.”

OWIN emerged in 2015 to help the state compete in the knowledge economy. Through the network, representatives of the state’s welcoming cities and counties meet to share best practices and to support local efforts to welcome immigrants and international students.

Research shows that international talent is key to a region’s success in the global economy. Ohio’s foreign-born population, while small, is unusually well educated and skilled. For example, more than 40 percent of Ohio’s immigrants hold college degrees, nearly double the native-born average. Meanwhile, Ohio’s international students are more likely than their native peers to be pursuing degrees in new economy fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Across the land, immigrants are about twice as likely as non-immigrants to launch a business.

It makes sense to help immigrants to use their business skills as soon as possible.  Yet many are stuck in low-pay jobs because their overseas degrees or credentials are not recognized here. Others may face language barriers, or a lack access to financing to buy a home or launch a startup.

Meeting at state office buildings, network members discussed these issues with representatives of the state departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Workforce Transformation, as well as the office of Governor John Kasich.

“They recognize the need for international talent inclusion,” said Whale, who attended the meetings. “Questions are commonly asked about foreign-educated professionals. If someone wants to get back into their profession here in the US, what’s the route they should take? How can education and credential policies allow for foreign education and skills?”

Solutions could include accreditation support and career guidance of the kind the state extends to military veterans making the transition to the civilian workforce.

By documenting pathways to careers, the state could help immigrant professionals return to careers more quickly, speeding personal success and enriching communities.

Cities and counties represented in the welcoming network include Cleveland and Cuyahoga County County, Akron and Summit County and Toledo and Lucas County, as well as Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. Learn more about OWIN at https://www.welcomingamerica.org/sites/default/files/Ohio.pdf