IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

The 2019 Policy Year in Review

Nevada Governor Sisolak signing SB538, creating the Offfice for New Americans in the Office of the Governor.

As the new year begins, a look back at progress in the arena of skilled immigrant integration over the past 12 months yields impressive and promising results. Our partners made great strides in shaping key policy decisions impacting the economic integration of immigrants and their ability to contribute to the communities where they live. Across the country, states enacted new laws and policies – on a bipartisan basis – to lower barriers to employment for immigrants and refugees.

In 2019, a dozen states—Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Arkansas, Indiana, Washington, Alabama, Georgia, and Minnesota—passed state laws aimed at removing barriers to employment for immigrants. And two states, New Jersey and Nevada, took steps to establish new statewide Offices of New Americans.

Reflecting on key policy developments in 2019, here are some notable trends:

As in previous years, a primary focus among states was lowering barriers to employment for internationally-trained medical professionals, in an effort to address provider shortages and disparities in access to high-quality healthcare. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington all passed laws to remove obstacles for immigrants to put their skills and training to use in the healthcare sector. These range from creating bodies to evaluate licensing requirements for international medical graduates (Massachusetts and Washington) to addressing the licensing of internationally-trained nurses (Alabama and Indiana).

States increasingly took steps in 2019 to ensure equitable access to occupational licenses more generally for internationally-trained professionals. Maine, Oregon, and Vermont led the way in passing new laws to explore how to reduce unnecessary barriers to licensure for immigrants and refugees with international credentials.

Lastly, Nevada and New Jersey joined the growing list of states committed to strengthening statewide support and coordination of immigrant and refugee initiatives through Offices of New Americans. These states join California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Colorado, and Washington in the nation’s first national Office of New Americans (ONA) network – a coalition of states bound together by a commitment to better serve newcomers to the U.S. WES Global Talent Bridge and New American Economy have partnered to coordinate the ONA network, which covers a range of immigrant and refugee issues including economic integration, access to legal services, and humanitarian concerns.

We also saw progress on immigrant integration at the federal level in 2019, with the introduction of a comprehensive integration bill, H.R. 4928, the New Deal for New Americans Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives. This wide-ranging legislation seeks to expand access to citizenship; promote immigrants’ social, economic, and civic integration; and invest in legal services for immigrants and refugees. The measure also directs the establishment of a National Office of New Americans and sets an annual minimum admissions number of 110,000 for refugee resettlement. While congressional gridlock makes the future of this bill uncertain, the measure offers a promising vision for national immigrant integration policy.

Building on the momentum of 2019, 2020 already holds many opportunities to advance the economic integration of immigrants and refugees. Pending bills in both Virginia and Pennsylvania would establish an Office of New Americans, and a bill in California seeks to build upon the role of the current Statewide Director of Immigrant Integration by creating a cabinet-level Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. In Massachusetts, pending legislation would reduce barriers to occupational licensure for immigrants and promote workforce training and business development. The Alaska legislature is considering a bill to establish clear guidelines for the licensing of internationally-trained physical therapists, and legislation in Minnesota  would support efforts to recognize the international credentials of immigrant professionals of African origin.

In the year ahead, we will continue to work with our state and national partners to advance new policies and initiatives to strengthen economic opportunities for immigrants and refugees. To stay informed about the latest policy updates, check out the IMPRINT Policy Map which tracks pending and enacted state and federal legislation impacting economic immigrant integration.

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