Immigrants make up one out of six workers in the US, and they support the vitality of local economies across the country. Despite the high employment rate among immigrants, those with low-paying jobs do not have the opportunity to complete education and training or improve their English and technical skills, leading to better wages and career advancement.
Understandably, newcomers often seek employment using the experience they bring from their home countries. Employment resources are often available through government or social service agencies or resettlement agencies in the case of refugees. Despite this, the service is usually available for a limited time, and some agencies focus only on getting individuals into jobs, without helping them find good jobs, i.e., ones with equitable compensation, benefits, and support on and off the job.
Some barriers to career advancement in the United States could limit newcomers’ earning potential. However, understanding your options and knowing your next steps can make a huge difference in achieving a successful future in your new country.
Barriers to career advancement in the United States
According to a report by the Urban Institute, limited English proficiency is correlated with lower wages. It is perceived as a critical barrier to higher-paid work and career advancement. Immigrants who are not fluent in English may be forced into occupations with lower pay and limited career advancement. Many free English as a second language (ESL) resources and classes are available, either online or in-person, to help improve your communication skills.
Foreign credentials and job experience
Immigrants may face barriers to gainful employment because their credentials and foreign work experience do not transfer smoothly into the US labor market. As a result, immigrants unable to duplicate the job they held in their home country are sometimes forced to take on entry-level positions that do not match their background.
To achieve greater career success in the US, further education and training, an understanding of the local labor market, and a knowledge of how to pursue the most promising career path are essential.
Career training programs for immigrants
Many organizations are designing workforce development services for immigrant workers and helping them address their barriers to participation.
In addition to workforce development programs specific to immigrants, the United State Department of Labor also offers programs for all citizens and legal residents of the United States opportunity for job training. Resources like My Next Move and My Skills My Future help match interest and skills with career opportunities.
Upwardly Global is a social change organization that provides immigrants, refugees, and asylees the training needed to rebuild their careers in the United States. Upwardly Global also partners with American companies to promote immigrant inclusion and job placement. The organization focuses on serving legal immigrants who are university educated with significant work experience yet are currently not working in the career field for which they are trained.
To qualify for Upwardly Global’s program, candidates must have:
- A university-level education
- Permanent, legal US work authorization (not employer-sponsored)
- Proficient English skills
- Some professional work experience outside the US
- And reside in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, or Washington, DC
Candidates cannot be or have been:
- Already working in their career field here in the US
- In the US for over seven years
Building Skills Partnership
A California-based non-profit organization, Building Skills Partnership (BSP), increases the skills, access to education, and career opportunities for low-wage property service workers and their families. BSP offers the following programs: English as a Second Language, Computer Literacy, Citizenship Preparation, Parent Education, Financial Literacy, Health, and Vocational Training.
UMBC Workforce Development Training
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Training Centers offers individual hands-on non-credit training programs that provide technical and operational cybersecurity training required to meet the needs of the military, intelligence community, federal civilian agencies, and the commercial sector within the Mid-Atlantic region.
Training programs include:
- Certificate in Cyber Foundations
- Software Developer Foundations
- Project Management Fundamentals
- Technology Sales Program
The UMBC offers a variety of tuition assistance programs that may supplement or cover the cost of the training programs. In addition, many of the UMBC programs have been approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) for WIOA funding for unemployed or underemployed Marylanders.
Career One Stop
Sponsored by the US Department of Labor, CareerOneStop is a career, training, and job search website. The website serves job seekers, businesses, students, and career advisors with various free online tools, information, and resources. In addition, visitors can find information on certificate and training programs, financial assistance for training, and local job centers.
SkillUp is a non-profit organization that helps workers transition to a better career with coaching training and job resources. SkillUp partners with state organizations to provide free training opportunities for individuals.
State Workforce Development Board
Workforce Development Boards are part of the United States Public Workforce System, a network of federal, state, and local offices that help facilitate training needs for local businesses. Contact your state workforce development board to find information on training programs available in your state.
The program helps eligible young people ages 16 through 24 complete their high school education, train for meaningful careers, and obtain employment.
At Job Corps, students have access to room and board while learning skills in specific training areas for up to three years. In addition to helping students complete their education, Job Corps also provides transitional support services, such as help finding employment, housing, child care, and transportation. Job Corps graduates either enter the workforce or an apprenticeship, go on to higher education, or join the military.
National Farm Workers Job Program
The National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) provides job training, employment assistance, and other supportive services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents.
To qualify for this benefit program, you must be all of the following:
- A migrant or seasonal farmworker; and
- Authorized to work in the United States; and
- Have low or very low income
Apprenticeships are paid, full-time positions offering hands-on learning through on-the-job experience and classroom instruction. An individual employer typically provides training and wages. Apprenticeship.gov is an initiative by the US Department of Labor that matches individuals with apprenticeship opportunities offered through an employer or the program sponsor.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are professions that typically have apprenticeship programs in the United States:
- Elevator installers and repairers
- Insulation workers, mechanical
- Masonry workers
- Musical instrument repairers and tuners
- Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
- Sheet metal workers
Online training and courses allow individuals to learn new skills and earn certifications at their own pace. Some e-learning platforms are free, while others let you take as many courses as you want for a small payment or monthly fee.
Each site specializes in different subject matter and can help you refresh old skills, learn new ones, and shift your career trajectory. Some examples include:
- ExpertRating – Affordable certifications to demonstrate employable skills to prospective employers while easily upskilling through well-researched and in-depth courses. Pricing is per certification and can range from $49.99 to $169.99 and up.
- LinkedIn Learning – Access video courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills. LinkedIn Learning members also receive certificates of completion to add to their LinkedIn profiles at no extra charge. After the trial ends, the subscription costs $29.99 per month or $19.99 per month for the annual plan. You may also be able to access LinkedIn Learning for free with a local library card.
- Skillcrush – Skillcrush offers both free and paid programs, including the self-paced Break Into Tech + Job Guarantee program, which prepares students for entry-level positions in front-end development and design.
- Skillshare – Access free classes on both web and mobile. For full access to all classes and offline viewing, a premium membership is billed $32 per month or $13.99 per month for the annual plan. Course topics span various categories such as design, illustration, business, technology, photo and film, entrepreneurship, and writing.
- General Assembly – The school offers short courses, online classes (including overnight courses and free short online courses), and immersive 10- and 12- week courses in computer programming, data science, and product management, with an emphasis on web development and user experience design. Payment plans and financial assistance is available.
- Coursera – Coursera partners with more than 200 leading universities and companies to bring flexible, affordable, job-relevant online learning to individuals and organizations worldwide. Learning opportunities include hands-on projects and courses to job-ready certificates, career credentials, and degree programs. On average, individual courses range from $29-$99 each for certification, though there are plenty of free courses you can audit.
- Edx – Take online courses from the world’s best universities and industry-leading companies on your mobile device. If you want a verified certificate (which you can add to LinkedIn and your resume), there is a fee (usually between $50-$300, depending on the course).
- Udemy – Probably the largest selection of online courses, with more than 100,000 video courses and new additions published every month. With frequent sales (and sale prices as low as $10.99 per course), it’s often one of the most affordable options. Topics range from programming boot camps to in-depth art lessons.
Financial aid resources for career training
While the programs listed above may have their own resources for financial assistance, other resources are available.
Federal Student Aid
Compiled by the US Department of Education, the Federal Student Aid website offers information and financial aid resources for eligible noncitizens, DACA recipients, and non-eligible noncitizens.
Career Training Smart Option Student Loan
Provided by Sallie Mae, a US-based financial institution, the Career Training Smart Option Student Loan® is specifically for professional training and trade certificate courses (culinary, technical, etc.) at a non-degree-granting school. Students who are not US citizens or US permanent residents must reside in the US, attend a participating school in the US, apply with a creditworthy cosigner (who must be a US citizen or US permanent resident), and provide an unexpired government-issued photo ID to verify their identity.
CareerOneStop is sponsored by the US Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration and is a resource for job training as well as the source of information on how to pay for your training.
Foreign-trained immigrants have a wealth of skills, expertise, work experience, and credentials that they can apply to meet the workforce needs of employers in the United States. However, according to the National Immigration Forum, about 24 percent, or 1.7 million, foreign-trained immigrants are affected by “brain waste.” They are unemployed or underemployed and working in jobs below their skill level. In addition, newcomers to the United States may simply be unaware of their options to upskill or reskill. We hope this list of resources can help you gain the knowledge and confidence to make informed career choices that can lead to a successful life in the United States.
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