There has been heated debate, over the past few years, over the role of immigrants in the US economy. Much of this debate has centered around uneducated, undocumented immigrants who come to this country illegally, and tend to seek out jobs involving manual labor. One aspect of immigration economics that we rarely talk about, on the other hand, is that of the educated, skilled immigrants who come to this country legally from abroad, and end up, oftentimes, washing dishes, driving taxis, or working as security guards.
A 2014 study found that over ten million immigrants in the United States have college degrees or higher . Many, like the now-famous scientist featured earlier this year on Humans of New York, have received advanced degrees, developed prestigious careers, and held respected positions in their countries of origin.
Unfortunately, many of these highly educated, skilled immigrants find that their credentials and work experiences do not transfer well into the American workplace, and that US employers don’t give them much of a chance. A large proportion, both in the US and Canada, find themselves unemployed or underemployed, like Negede Abebe and Mechal Chame, an MBA grad and a civil engineer, who are currently working as taxi drivers in Washington D.C.
Some, like Abebe, decide to bite the bullet and “go back to school,” spending years pursuing degrees that are below their prior level of education, only to find that they still can’t find jobs in their chosen fields after graduation. Abebe had been an economist in his home country of Ethiopia, where he had worked in high level positions for the government and international organizations. After immigrating to the US and being unable to find a job in his field, he went back to school in 2008 and got an MBA from Trinity University in Washington D.C. Upon graduation, Abebe still couldn’t find a job in business or economics, and has been forced to work even longer hours behind the wheel of his cab, in order to pay off his student loans.
Learning to code can be a great way for immigrants — especially those with backgrounds in math, science, and computers — to jump into the American workforce without too rough of a transition. Short-term bootcamps and vocational schools can provide rapid access to high-paying careers for people who can’t afford the substantial time and money investments required to obtain a degree in the United States. This can be a lifesaving avenue for immigrants who have the intelligence, and oftentimes even the education, to thrive in the American workforce, but whose credentials simply don’t transfer well from their home countries. When it comes to the tech world, if you have the skills you can get the job. Coding bootcamps and vocational schools can thus serve as a bridge for skilled immigrants who just want to put their minds to good use, and contribute substantially to the American economy.
Check out the infographic below for more information about the wasted talent of America’s highly skilled immigrant population.