Immigrant Professionals --new study!

Hello colleagues, Just today IMPRINT released a new, first-of-its-kind study about immigrant professionals, Steps to Success: Integrating Immigrant Professionals in the United States. This survey collected data from skilled immigrants in six urban localities across the United States: Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, San Jose, and Seattle.

I am sure the following key finds are no surprise to members here:

  • Social capital is powerful: The survey showed that there is a remarkably strong correlation between the size of an immigrant’s social network and his or her likelihood of success.
  • English really matters: Across the board, stronger English language skills were correlated with virtually every possible measure of immigrant success.
  • Immigrants take enterprising approaches: Numerous self-improvement strategies were reported, including academic credential evaluation, English language classes, and additional education in the United States."

While the results show that about 40% of survey participants who have been in the US for 6 or more years 1) make at least $50K per year, and a somewhat lower percentage 2) use their skills at work, and 3) are working as professionals, a full 60%+ are still not achieving these goals. Unsurprisingly, skilled immigrants who have been here less than six years are earning less and fewer are using their skills.

What are your concerns about the skilled immigrants you are working with? What program models and strategies have you found to be successful? What kind of English classes have you found to be most helpful to skilled immigrants to accelerate their progress onto meaningful career pathways?

Some members will want to check out the full report. Please offer your comments and raise your questions here.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP


Hi, Susan -

Thank you for sharing this report.  I found the recommendations section especially interesting.  It breaks these down by audience: service providers; funders; policy makers.  

For service providers, it suggests to "work[ing] to build connections between mainstream career pathways programs and services designed specifically for immigrant professionals".  I'm interested in what AELL professional see as the needs of immigrant professionals when it comes to short-term credentials?  This section also mentions "educat[ing] immigrant professionals on the potential value of obtaining short-term 'Made in America' supplements to their international education and experience".  Here, the authors note that, "numerous findings in our report point to U.S. employer's strong preference for American experience and training.  [C]ost effective ways of acquiring the 'Made in America' stamp include facilitating immigrants' exploration of...short-term certificates, training programs, workplace internships, volunteer experience".  How do AELL professionals expose learners to these 'Made in America' options for earning U.S. work experience in their chosen career field?


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator        

I would love to have some concrete, tried and true, resources to offer the skilled workers I am working with.  At this time, I have students who are teachers, mechanical engineers and business administrative assistants. Trying to guide them to jobs other than housekeeping or restaurant work is frustrating.  They need credentials, which means they need money to get credentials evaluated. Once they are evaluated (if they have the money) they are not accepted because they are not up to US standards, which means they must go back to school or start over.  These folks have families they need to provide for, so the option to quite work and go back to school full-time isn't happening.  Catch 22!

If anyone knows of resources out in the Northampton/Amherst area, please share them.  My heart breaks for our students.

Hi, Linda -

You bring up a good point that I've also seen in teaching adult ELL classes.  While I don't have a silver bullet to the problem, I wanted to share a resource for those needing to go through credential evaluation.  NAFSA: Association of International Educators has a good resource for those trying to choose a credential evaluation service.  A Guide to Selecting a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Service is a free resource that will help learners consider which service to use for this not inexpensive evaluation of foreign education. 

Best of luck to you and your learners!

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Hi Michael, Susan, Linda-- this comment is a bit sideways to this discussion.  I, too, share this pain that Linda describes of seeing highly trained and educated professionals languishing because of credentialing issues, English challenges and other problems.  One tiny ray of hope comes from an effort I have just been involved in here in Maine-- incorporating the the College and Career Readiness Standards into adult ESOL instruction.  The explicit purpose of these standards is to help students be better prepared to enter workplaces and educational settings on a competitive footing in terms of their understanding and speaking English and their dealing with informational text. 

For many years I taught in higher ed. ESL (at an IEP at a university) and then in community college ESL classes.  Courses in both of these settings were intended to prepare students to take on college coursework and to increase their competence in their places of work.  In both settings, the coursework and language demands were very challenging. Students were expected to work VERY hard to keep up and pass, and they did.   In contrast, in adult ESOL classes I found that there is often a lack of rigor and demands of self-directed study and higher level skills that would allow the educated students to move more successfully and quickly into other educational settings and or jobs commensurate with their backgrounds. I was--and still am--dismayed that classes and curriculum were not set up to serve those highly educated students who, for a variety of reasons, did not or could not, access community college classes. The differences between the materials, methods, expectations and learning outcomes of the students in adult ESOL and those in community college ESL are staggering (at one of the community colleges I taught at, students who were in the college/county--sponsored "adult ESOL" classes could not even transition to the community college classes without passing an entrance test, and if they WERE accepted into the (non-credit) college classes, were always at a severe disadvantage compared with those who entered directly, despite similar educational backgrounds). 

Thus the incorporation of the CCRS seems at least a small step in the direction of increasing the demands and rigor of adult ESOL.  Of course, there are always the programmatic challenges adult ESOL cannot seem to get past that impede having such rigor, primarily the issue of classes of students of mixed levels of educational backgrounds, and instruction and methods designed to encourage communication but not to raise reading and writing skills to a level where students could even manage ABE classes.   Nonetheless, the teachers who received the CCRS training were clearly emboldened by it to raise the expectations of language use in their classes, to try activities giving students more autonomy and authority in the classes and to re-examine the texts they use and the ways they have students interact with the texts.  Even teachers of the students with the least education and/or lowest English skills were able to find ways to increase the rigor of their lessons to a small degree.   This will begin to increase students' linguistic and literacy competence as they aim for employment and education at levels close to those of their backgrounds.  

As happens so often, however, the training program was short, and so far, despite the monetary outlay for the initial training,  there does not appear to be any structured way for teachers to have follow-up to their training, though they are trying hard to create that structure for themselves.   The message here is that at any and all levels of education, expectations of teachers AND students need to be high.  For the sake of the students, whose time and efforts at gaining English skills must ALWAYS be honored, I hope this trend continues and that the standards will increase in prominence and implementation in adult ESOL settings. 


Do we have a common standard for foreign credentials for F1 visa holders and immigrants? In my experience no. Our higher learning institutions use tougher requirements for immigrants with foreign credentials than what they use for F1 international students. Unless our higher learning institutions have a uniform standard and give credit to the content knowledge of foreign graduates  who are  immigrants, their struggle will remain in obtaining a meaningful job. In my ESOL class I help our higher level students to take the CC placement test. All have tested  higher than the Dev. Ed cut off score and started out in Comp.1 class. They all did well. CCs usually don't want that. They want students to go through their Dev.Ed classes. It is all about the revenue. Unless we have a uniform, fair and, meaningful assessment of credentials, the immigrants won't be helped no matter how many studies we conduct or how many discussions we have. Comparing foreign HS diploma against ours is worse. The sad reality based on my experience is this; foreign HS diploma holders with EFL background have better English skills than our HS diploma holders coming out of regular stream classes and most have 32 credits. It would be nice if everyone( ABE,ESOL, and higher learning institutions) will have a good look at the transcripts of their students and see what help they need instead of pushing everyone through a set number of classes.

I agree with Linda.  The whole credentialing process is very frustrating since it is so expensive for students and takes time. From what I’ve learned in my two years as case manager, different fields require students to get their credentials evaluated by a certain agency.  Just doing the research and finding out what a field requires for international students is time consuming and frustrating.  It would be nice to have a list of fields and their recommended or required credentialing agencies in one place.  And of course, each state licensing board has different requirements as well.

 I have trouble as a native speaker plowing through the info and our students who are still trying to master the English language will find it near impossible to do it on their own.   For example, is the credentialing agency for engineers, ECFVG is the process for international vets to get their licensing etc… 

I have found that universities are the best source of information for these types of professional requirements.

It is very helpful for international students to volunteer or job shadow, if possible, in a similar position to help accelerate their learning and build their resume.

The report suggested getting short trainings like certificates that might help boost their employability in America and as Dr. Robin said, ESL programs need to up the rigor of the classes being offered to help them prepare either for the workplace or the university.

Hello colleagues, This discussion is so very important, and there is so much to say on this topic! For starters, there are now far more skilled immigrants (i.e., those with a college or professional degree or at least some college) than there have been in the past -- I've heard around 30%.  So, most adult literacy programs are encountering many more of these individuals. For instance, in just the last four years, I have met about 50-60 health care professionals in my community in Pennsylvania, most of whom had been physicians in their country.

As members have noted, the challenges of credentialing for professionals are quite complex. The licensure requirements for most professional fields vary from state to state, a reality which-- in and of itself-- is a conundrum for immigrants who come to the US. We do, however, have national boards for physicians. Check out the Education Commission for Foreign Trained Medical Graduates for helpful information. Foreign-trained physicians-- even those who have adequate English to pass the medical boards-- still must secure a residency in the US, which is extremely difficult since there are only a certain number of open slots each year, and it requires competing with American medical school graduates. A few years ago, I was told that there are more than 20,000 foreign-trained physicians who have passed the US medical boards who have yet to secure a residency.

As it relates to teaching, there is no question that our approach to instruction needs to be different for these learners in order to accelerate their progress in English. I greatly appreciate Robin drawing our attention to the potential power of the College and Career Readiness Standards to help all of us to increase the rigor of instruction for adult learners at ALL levels -- from those who come with professional credentials to those with limited or interrupted formal schooling.

I strongly agree that the standards give us the tools we need to enhance our instruction. However, as Robin also notes, we need ongoing professional development and support to do so effectively.

There is so much more to say on all of this! Please weigh in! Share your concerns, your questions, your excellent strategies, as well as resources!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Relevant to this discussion, I would pass on a resource: Upwardly Global is an organization that specifically focuses on this population of skilled immigrants to help them to attain professional employment.  The organization is based in San Francisco and with satellite offices in other cities and online services as well.