Improving Opportunities for New Americans passes House, part of NDAA

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Update on The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act 

Through sustained thought leadership, coalition building, and partnership we are witnessing a moment of monumentous progress in systems level integration of immigrant talent in the United States. The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act passed the House under the National Defense Authorization Act FY2022. The Act directs the Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct a study on obstacles to employment facing immigrants and refugees in the U.S., including people recently evacuated from Afghanistan. This study would advance economic opportunity by identifying and addressing barriers impacting new Americans as they seek to rebuild their careers in the U.S. 

The Challenge 

Newcomers to the U.S. are more educated than at any other time in our history: 60% of recently-arrived immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Yet more than 2 million immigrants and refugees who have degrees and professional work experience from their home countries face systemic barriers that leave them unemployed or working in survival jobs in the United States. This year, the U.S. has welcomed 65,000 Afghan refugees with as many as 35,000 more on the way, many of whom have college degrees and are English-language proficient. 

This collective wasted talent pool accounts for approximately $40 billion in forgone wages annually, and $10 billion in unpaid federal, state, and local taxes. 

Barriers to Employment 

Upwardly Global is the first and longest-serving national organization that helps immigrant and refugee professionals to restart their careers, bringing their diversity of skills and perspective into the American economy. Over the past 20+ years of experience working with nearly 20,000 of these individuals, we combat common barriers including: 

  • No professional networks 
  • Limited access to contextualized English language classes 
  • Lack of recognition for international education or experience by employers and licensing bodies Need for job readiness and career navigation support 
  • Lack of availability and access to essential mid- and high-skill training, upskilling, and certification opportunities 
  • Limited cultural context of U.S. hiring processes and systems 

The Opportunity 

To date, Upwardly Global has placed 8,000 skilled immigrants into professional positions, with 70% working in high-demand STEM roles. After job placement, program participants achieve an annual income gain of more than $50,000, which they reinvest back into the economy through taxes and participation in their local communities. Skilled immigrant labor is a critical resource for the U.S. as we seek to address the 5.5 million open positions in 2021. Not only do these job placements create economic self-sufficiency and address critical labor shortages in the U.S., but they also demonstrably drive workforce inclusion. In 2021,, 48% of Upwardly Global’s placements are women and 74% are BIPOC or people of color. A more participatory workforce stands to benefit all of us.

How the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act Moves the Mark 

A Department of Labor-led study looks at the obstacles to employment facing Afghan SIVs and other immigrants and refugees who hold international degrees or credentials — a crucial step toward ensuring the economic inclusion and mobility of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. 

The first-of-its-kind study would: 

  • Identify barriers preventing Afghan SIVs and other immigrants and refugees from fully utilizing their professional experience in the U.S. 
  • Highlight existing resources that support the integration of the international qualifications of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. 
  • Inform the development of future policy and programming 
  • Pave the way for the United States to make the investments necessary to remain a global destination for skilled immigrant talent 
  • Ultimately, the study would yield essential research on the barriers faced by internationally-trained immigrants and refugees that would support their re-entry into their professions, identify evidence-based opportunities for workforce development, enhance opportunities for English language learning, and make adult education more accessible. 

Where Things Stand 

The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act passed out of rules committee and passed the House as an amendment under the National Defense Authorization Act FY2022. The Senate can now include the Act as an Amendment in the version of NDAA that will be voted on in October/November, 2021 to move this further.

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