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Career Development for Internationally Trained Refugees: Seven Steps for Service Providers

Internationally trained newcomers—professionals who received their post-secondary education and credentials in another country—bring a wealth of skills, qualifications, and experiences that can greatly benefit our communities and economy. However, they often face unique barriers to resuming their careers in the U.S. In this blog post, written in collaboration with World Education Services, we will use a sample scenario to outline supportive steps you can take to assist newcomers in finding employment more closely aligned with their skills and expertise. 

Career Programming

Career programs are designed to support individuals in achieving their professional goals with career counseling, job search assistance, skills training, and credentialing opportunities. These programs help participants develop essential skills, build professional networks, and access employment opportunities that align with their aspirations and qualifications. Many immigrant-serving organizations and institutions offer career programs designed to specifically meet the needs of newcomer populations. In addition to the services mentioned above, these programs typically offer credential evaluation services for internationally trained students, vocational English training, training that focuses on American approaches to professionalism, and direct assistance. 

 

To connect clients to existing career services, visit CareerOneStop to locate skills training programs, funding, and employment support through American Job Centers nationwide. Additionally, to refer clients to existing refugee-specific career programming, check out the list of current Refugee Career Pathways (RCP) grantees or consider applying for RCP funding to offer these services at your organization. You can also contact nearby refugee service organizations to find out if they have additional career programming funded by Refugee Support Services (RSS) or a private funding source.  

 

Next, we will explore a scenario to outline the steps career programs staff might take to assist a newcomer in achieving their vocational goals.  

A Common Scenario

During an intake meeting, you interview a new client: Vali, a 38-year-old father of three from Afghanistan, who has been in the U.S. for seven months. He is a new arrival, eligible for Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) services. As part of the intake process, you ask him about his professional and educational background. 

 

Vali reports that he has a master’s degree in education from the University of Kabul and over 10 years’ experience teaching English. Currently employed as a delivery driver, Vali aspires to get back into the classroom as a teacher. That way he can utilize his skills and education and give back to the community where he lives.  

 

Vali’s goal requires more than just ambition—it calls for dedicated career pathway programming support.  

 

Below are seven steps you can take to assist Vali and other newcomers trained abroad in achieving their educational and career goals: 

1. “Don’t do this alone.”

For newcomers, the path to re-licensure can be confusing and overwhelming, especially when navigating an unfamiliar system. Acknowledge their worries and recommend that they seek assistance rather than attempting to navigate this process independently.  

 

As Vali’s service provider, you can connect him to Refugee Career Pathways (RCP) service providers and other community partners such as Upwardly Global, who offer free and individualized career services for eligible immigrants and refugees. You may find additional programs supporting internationally trained newcomers on the World Education Services (WES) Global Talent Bridge U.S. Program Map. 

2. English Language Assessment

Vali wants to be a teacher in the U.S. For him and most other professionals seeking to enter a licensed or mid-level position, it will be imperative to have a certain level of English proficiency. If English is a challenge for Vali or other clients, prioritize language training, and refer them to a local adult education program, community college, or another community partner who offers English classes for adults. 

 

As an educator, Vali may already have a high level of English skills but could still benefit from contextualized classes (instruction focused on teaching academic or job-related English skills) while simultaneously focusing on the next step and considering possible career pathways in the U.S. Additionally, Vali would likely benefit from enrolling in an academic or technical writing class at one of these institutions to learn the composition skills that are often required for success in college-level coursework.  

3. Career Pathways

Vali may not have a clear view of what it takes to re-enter his profession in the U.S. Existing resources such as the WES Career Pathways interactive tool can assist Vali in exploring diverse career opportunities in the United States. These resources offer guidance on becoming a teacher and showcase alternative career pathways. 

 

A common pathway to career advancement is through employer-sponsored training. Consider speaking to existing employer partners about the possibility of providing clients with structured advancement opportunities. For additional capacity, consider applying for or connecting with current grantees of the ORR-funded Employer Engagement Program. This program funds organizations to develop employer networks and workplace-based training programs that provide English language instruction, job-specific skills training, and personalized professional goal planning for ORR-eligible populations to facilitate their long-term employment and career advancement. 

4. Credential Evaluation and Recognition

To be eligible for licensure to teach in public school, Vali will need to get a credential evaluation of his degree. He should get in touch with his state’s education licensure body to ensure he is getting the right credential evaluation from an organization they accept. With licensure criteria varying from state to state, you should advise him of the importance of looking for the licensure board in the state where he seeks to get licensed.   

To help Vali at this stage, begin to compile information on the licensure process, including required exams and necessary documentation for him to continue his teaching career in the U.S. Also verify that his immigration status makes him eligible for teaching licensure in his state. At this stage, a career programs staff person should consider connecting Vali to internship or volunteer positions to help him acquire American classroom experience. Should Vali decide on an alternative or related career pathway that may not require him to be licensed1 (such as para-professional, substitute teacher, learning and development trainer, or teacher at a private institution that does not require licensure), he may want to hold off on a credential evaluation until specifically required by an employer. Familiarize yourself with credible credential evaluation organizations recognized by the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES). These organizations offer reliable services to verify international academic credentials and provide evaluation reports that compare them to local qualifications and degrees.  

To learn more about credential evaluations and their role in helping people like Vali obtain the jobs they want, you can read about credential evaluations here or watch the WES credential evaluation video here. 

 

Refugees and other newcomers who cannot access their complete documentation due to adverse circumstances in the country where they studied may be eligible for options like the WES Gateway Program or the ECE Aid program, which may provide assessments of academic achievement for eligible individuals.

5. College Classes and Short-Term Credentials

If Vali needs to fulfill additional licensure requirements through coursework, connect him with an academic advisor at appropriate educational institutions such as community colleges or universities. (Note that each institution decides which credential evaluation organizations they accept.) It may also be helpful to connect Vali to a career mentor at this stage. Working with an academic advisor and mentor can ensure that Vali has information on the desirable skills and knowledge base in his industry and can help him choose courses that will ensure he meets the requirements for licensure and future employability. To locate a mentor, send an email to existing volunteers, or request mentorship support from the college or university.  

Career services staff should also provide information on available bridging programs, language courses, or academic support services that can help Vali prepare for licensing exams or enhance his qualifications. If Vali needs to take classes to fulfill licensure requirements, he should ensure that the credential evaluation will be accepted by both the college and licensure body to prevent having to pay for two evaluations. 

If Vali is considering an alternative or related career path that does not require licensure, encourage him to pursue short-term credentials focusing on frequently sought-after hard skills, such as computer, analytical, and project management skills. Community colleges and workforce centers can be helpful resources for this form of training. 

6. Financial Considerations

Advise Vali about the costs associated with credential evaluation, re-certification, obtaining documents, and pursuing additional education, as the various fees can be substantial. Discuss the cost and any available financial support, fee waivers, or scholarships that could alleviate this financial burden. For more information on accessing financial aid through FAFSA, check out this Federal Student Aid toolkit. 

In some cases, Federal Pell Grants can be awarded to a student enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program.  

Consider the Need for Wraparound Services

Accessing career opportunities involves support beyond information and consultation. Vali and his family may need additional help to secure a successful long-term placement in a job aligned with his skillset.  

 

Transportation is a major barrier for refugees seeking long-term employment, especially in areas with limited public transportation systems. RCP grantees often have stipends for transportation available, so it would be a good idea to contact these organizations to see if Vali is eligible. Driving lessons in a supportive environment can make a big difference for individuals to feel confident in getting their license. If possible, work with local partners to guide individuals through the driver’s license process and relevant laws in their state. Contact Rides for Refugees and other car donation programs to find out if Vali is eligible to receive a vehicle free of cost. 

 

Vali may also need support with accessing low-cost child care. Career staff should work within Vali’s family system to ensure that all family members are in support of a new child care arrangement and that any external child care is not putting undue financial pressure on the household. Again, the RCP program often offers funding to support child care costs during training, and connecting with the grantees linked above may allow Vali to access this funding. Additionally, relying on Switchboard’s roundup of child care resources to help working families thrive may also help alleviate this burden.

Conclusion

By following these seven steps, you can effectively guide internationally trained newcomers like Vali through the process of relaunching their professional careers in the United States. Although the path to re-entering ones field has obstacles, taking a supportive and knowledgeable approach enables newcomers to overcome hurdles and attain jobs aligned with their valuable skills, education, and experience. 

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