International Institute of St. Louis tackles brain waste head on

By Beth Szurpicki

This post is the first in a two-part series highlighting two innovations in St. Louis and Philadelphia to support foreign-trained and educated immigrant professionals. 

“When I came to the United States I thought that finding a job in my field would be easy. The reality slammed my face: it’snot easy, even if you have enough qualifications.” Irene Contreras’ sentiments are all too common. An immigrant from Venezuela with a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, Irene couldn’t find a job to put her knowledge to use despite her qualifications.

The unemployment or underemployment of foreign educated and trained immigrants in the United States is a large problem known as “brain waste.” According to the Migration Policy Institute’s 2016 report, Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States, “The pending retirement of many baby boomers, low U.S. birth rates, and the shift toward the knowledge economy are combining to leave many regional economies without the highly-skilled workforce they need to grow and attract business.”  Unfortunately, most of the country’s institutions and infrastructure fail to recognize and embrace the skills and potential of the highly-skilled immigrant professionals that could fill those gaps. MPI’s research shows that (as of 2016) 1 in 4 college-educated immigrants, a total of near 2 million workers, are stuck in low-skilled jobs or are unemployed (also showing that they fare worse than their US-born counterparts, for which the number is approximately 1 in 5). This outcome is a real loss to the many talented professionals that struggle to provide for themselves and their families, and is a real loss to the local economy.

Immigrant brain waste is not a new problem, and there are immigrant inclusion strategies in play across the region that you’ve probably heard of: Connector and Professional Networking Programs (featured on page 9 of Welcoming Economies Playbook) including Global Detroit’s Cultural Ambassadors and St. Louis Mosaic Project’s Connectors programs; Upwardly Global’s Professional Licensing Guides and online servicesMichigan Office for New AmericansMichigan International Talent Solutions and Michigan’s Professional Licensing Guides; Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvania’s Career Guides for Immigrant Professionals; WES Global Talent Bridge; and Global Talent Idaho.  

In this series we highlight two WE Global Network members who have innovated strategies to support immigrant professionals and thwart brain waste in their local community.


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