Foreign-born workers critical to future-ready California workforce

Foreign-born workers critical to future-ready California workforce

SECTION: Geographic & demographic inequalities

Representing 27% of the state’s population and  34% of its workers, foreign-born Californians – New Americans –  are making outsized contributions to the state workforce. But immigrants’ potential to contribute to a future-ready workforce goes beyond these numbers: Since 2016, the education levels of newly-arrived immigrants have reached near-parity with their native-born counterparts. And beyond college degrees, immigrants have assets that experts tout as critical to our future workforce: Significant experience in STEM fields, the global savvy to compete in international markets, and experiences that foster resilience and innovation

Ensuring that foreign-born professionals can fully contribute their skills is a vital part of a conversation about building a future-ready workforce in California. Strategies to tackle “brain waste”–a phenomenon affecting some two million college-educated immigrants in the U.S., relegating them to either unemployment or underemployment in jobs that do not make full use of their skills–will be a critical component of conversation being led by the Future of Work Commision. 

Brain waste manifests in a number of systemic and stubborn ways. Immigrants’ limited professional networks in the U.S., lack of familiarity with the U.S. job search process, and confusion about labyrinthine licensing processes are compounded by employers’ uncertainty about foreign credentials, hiring bias, and misperception about work authorization. 

Upwardly Global has seen first-hand how transitioning work-authorized immigrant professionals to re-enter their careers, especially in a state like California. Over the years, we have supported nearly 7,000 foreign-born  professionals in re-building professional careers with U.S. employers that are delighted to tap their talent. Nearly 2,000 of these program alumni are Californians, now working full-time with local employers like Google, Apple, Accenture, Wells Fargo, Airbnb, Levi Strauss & Co. These immigrants–underemployed or unemployed before connecting with our program, with 85% experiencing poverty in 2019–now earn an average of $64,350 in full-time jobs in California. Tackling brain waste lifts local families out of poverty while transforming local communities and workforces. 

Upwardly Global is building a future-ready U.S. workforce that champions equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our approach is built on two decades of successful direct service programs with a vision to transform workforce development and fostering inclusive hiring systems. The model offers possibility for scale in communities across California: 

  • COACHING: Navigate foreign-born professionals’ experience and skills with
  •  industry-specific job search, networking and interview preparation. 
  • LEARNING: Build accessible online platforms for government, nonprofit and industry professionals to serve this population cohort and to develop a resilient, future-ready workforce. 
  • PARTNERING: Collaborate with U.S. employers to co-design equitable hiring practices that champion diversity and inclusion. 
  • LEADING: Build new and inspiring narratives about the talent of foreign-born professionals with research, advocacy initiatives, and thought leadership. 

We look forward to being a resource to the California Future of Work Commission in building a state where all Californians–regardless of country of origin–can contribute and thrive. 


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