Immigrant Workforce Integration – Recognizing Skills and Talent of New Americans


Immigration has long been a hot topic of conversation  for economic and political reasons, yet as our communities become increasingly diverse in languages and culture, immigrant integration – what comes after uprooting one’s life in pursuit of safety and opportunity – becomes an equally important conversation to support new Americans and their communities to build shared prosperity.

The last two and a half decades in the U.S. have seen growing foreign-born populations in many communities across the country; the skills, languages, and talents brought into receiving communities are just as diverse as where our newest Americans come from. More than a quarter of immigrant and refugee adults who arrived since 1990 are highly educated. They often arrive with years and sometimes decades of professional experience, yet due to financial, cultural, and regulatory barriers, their expertise is not recognized by the local workforce. This trend, described as brain waste, was the topic of a report released by OneAmerica in December 2015. Titled Reducing Brain Waste: Creating Career Pathways for Foreign-Educated Immigrants in Washington State, the report highlighted nursing and education as sectors that are particularly ripe to tap into the human potential in our local communities.

One example of how this report has helped shape policy conversations is at the Professional Educator Standards Board, the state agency that sets educator standards policy, as they work with school districts and advocates like OneAmerica to build a bilingual educator pipeline that will help address Washington’s teacher shortage and diversity issue, especially as demand grows for dual language education and educators.
Lifting up the economic contributions of immigrants was the focal point of OneAmerica’s 2009 report, Building Washington’s Future: Immigrant Contributions to our State’s Economy. Together, these reports discuss the untapped potential of immigrants and refugees while also highlighting their vital tax and workforce contributions. This is an important framework that acknowledges the tremendous role immigrants and refugees play in our economy.

Our state economy relies on immigrant workers in its many diverse industries from tech to agriculture; immigrant workers who bring global perspectives and multiple language competencies keep Washington State’s economy an international powerhouse, ready and able to work across cultures all over the world. Yet this success, in our view, is only a limited expression of what could be, if we had workforce and regulatory systems that fully embraced and supported immigrant workers with pathways and classes that better fit the diverse education and skill levels of new Americans.

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