Serving Jobseekers with Professional Backgrounds: Workforce Resources for Clients and Staff

As employment staff across the resettlement network know, clients with professional backgrounds bring to their job searchin-demand talent, perspective, and commitment, but face unique barriers to attaining quality, professional-level employment. Clients are often ‘starting over’ in a complex workforce that does not always recognize their credentials or transferrable skills. This “brain waste” is not a new phenomenon; according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the U.S. is home to over 2.2 million immigrants and refugees who are college-educated and highly skilled yet un/under-employed. Employment staff, more than anyone, see this play out at the local and regional level every day.

Most startling is how persistent this reality is, despite overwhelming data showing that when we invest in immigrants’ workforce inclusion, our communities and economies reap the benefits. Looking to the State of New York as one example, if all college-educated immigrants in the state were employed in roles that were commensurate with their skills and education, they would add an estimated $5B in annual earnings and $594M in state and local tax revenue (MPI, 2016). Other examples can be found across the country, highlighting how immigrant and refugee contributions boost economic vitality and growth, increase innovation, and provide much-needed representation across industry.

Industry Focus: Immigrants and refugees provide untapped data science potential

“Companies everywhere are looking to dramatically improve their operations by boosting their use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data. The problem is, finding the people with the skills to deploy and use these powerful tools is difficult—there just aren’t that many individuals out there with them. Or are there?”

Read more from Accenture, Berkeley Institute for Data Science, and Upwardly Global on how targeted reskilling opportunities in AI and data are helping immigrants and refugees fill critical roles in this in-demand (and growing) field.

For more than two decades, Upwardly Global’s mission has been to eliminate employment barriers for immigrant and refugee professionals and to meaningfully bring their skills into the U.S. economy. We have long-partnered with employment professionals across the country to build our collective capacity to serve clients with professional backgrounds and create strong, thriving-wage career pathways. We’re grateful to highlight some of the key resources UpGlo can extend to resettlement agencies as we all work to address the most common barriers for job seekers.

What are some employment barriers faced by internationally trained clients?

Newcomers with degrees and/or professional training arrive in the U.S. into a context of longstanding employment barriers well-known to employment specialists:

  1. They may lack familiarity around U.S-specific norms that are critical to job readiness: how to write a U.S.-style professional resume, cross-cultural communication skills needed to navigate professional job interviews and networking settings.
  2. They face significant barriers around English proficiency. While they may come to the U.S. with baseline fluency, they often lack industry-specific or professional English skills.
  3. Additionally, in a context where 85% of all jobs are filled via professional networking (LinkedIn, 2016), immigrants (particularly refugees or asylees who may have experienced sudden displacement) often find themselves without any personal and professional networks upon resettlement, leaving them isolated and with limited social connections.
  4. They may also face significant challenges translating their foreign-earned credentials and degrees to the U.S. workforce, frequently through an extensive, costly and confusing web of re-licensing requirements that may lead them to abandon their career path altogether.
  5. American employers are frequently unfamiliar with how to evaluate degrees and professional experience earned abroad and, as a result, may overlook and sideline qualified refugee and other immigrant candidates.
  6. Limited public resources and lack of familiarity with this community of jobseekers and their specific career needs often results in newcomers finding “rapid attachment” jobs: low-skill, low-wage roles that provide little opportunity for advancement or upward mobility.

What services can help?

The good news is that in addition to refugee service providers, the U.S. is home to an extensive array of organizations working hard to provide workforce development services to low-income refugee and immigrant professionals. These include workforce agencies, community-based organizations and city/local government agencies. These providers work to create tailored spaces for the often-overlooked population of immigrant professionals and improve institutionalized conditions that prevent newcomers from finding work commensurate with their skills, education, and long-term career aspirations.

One such provider is Upwardly Global! Read on to learn about relevant programs and services available through UpGlo:

Rapid Response Portal for Afghan Newcomers

As the United States continues to welcome tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees, many of these newcomers bring robust professional experience, skills, and education. In response to this moment and with funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), Upwardly Global designed a curated selection of digital training tools and skilling opportunities called the Rapid Response Portal. With partners like Coursera and Microsoft, this resource is appropriate for clients with intermediate English proficiency looking for accessible resources for their U.S. job search.

Coaching Program

This high-touch coaching program is open to work-authorized evacuees and refugees who have degrees or professional training from their home country and are looking to get back into their professional career tracks. The program is a unique blend of virtual soft-skills training, 1:1 coaching with industry specific advisors, skilling and training access, and professional networking opportunities through more than 50 employer partners. This resource is appropriate for clients with high digital literacy skills that prefer to work independently.


Jobversity offers digital learning resources and technical assistance to expand the reach of Upwardly Global in supporting immigrants and refugees in fully contributing their skills to the U.S. economy. Jobversity’s online courses are available to partner organizations seeking to support immigrants and refugees in navigating the U.S. job market. The free resource library hosts curated materials on the U.S. job search, credentialing, and professional licensing guides. For more information, please contact Emily Hackerson at emilyh@upwardlyglobal.org

For more information about training and technical assistance for providers serving Afghan newcomers, including those with professional backgrounds, stay tuned to the Switchboard newsletter

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