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Migrants’ health skills going to waste in US pandemic response – report

24 July 20200 comments

The skills of migrant health professionals are going unused in the US as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the nation claiming thousands of lives each day, according to a new report.

Research by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI) found that as the US struggles to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, underutilised highly-skilled migrants with health care qualification represent an untapped pool of talent.

“As hospitals in hotspots across the United States are strained by COVID-19 cases, an estimated 263,000 high-skilled immigrants and refugees with health-related undergraduate degrees are either employed in low-skilled jobs requiring no more than a high school diploma or are out of work,” the report said.

The report includes state-level profiles of thee underemployed workers, who are found all over the country, not just in traditional immigrant-gateway states.

“These 263,000 immigrants and refugees, who majored in a health-related field (nearly half of them in nursing) as undergraduates, have been largely sidelined as a result of barriers including difficulty getting their academic credentials recognized and limited professional networks, the report said.

“These hurdles are keeping many from joining the 12.1 million U.S. born and more than 2.6 million immigrants employed in the health care field before the coronavirus outbreak began,” it said.

The report, titled ‘Brain Waste among Us Immigrants with Health Degrees: A Multi-State Profile’, used data from the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Labour to offer a profile of where these immigrant professionals live, the languages they speak, their English proficiency, college degree majors and legal status.

It also offers an overview of policies in the eight states (Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) where governors have used their executive authority to temporarily suspend or adjust licensing requirements for certain health professions, including for internationally trained health care professionals.

The researchers found that the 263,000 foreign-born health professionals experiencing skill underutilization are widely distributed across the United States. Beyond the traditional top immigrant destinations of California, Florida, Texas, New York and New Jersey, sizeable numbers of these health care professionals can be found in states such as Georgia and Washington (8,000 apiece); North Carolina and Michigan (6,000 each); and Tennessee and Connecticut (3,000 apiece).

They found the health professionals speak languages that overlap substantially with those spoken by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations in the states where they live, making them a potentially valuable resource in providing linguistically and culturally competent care and serving as a public health resource in their communities.

The health workers are overwhelmingly in the US legally, with more than 80 per cent legally present as naturalised US citizens, legal permanent residents, humanitarian migrants and holders of temporary non-immigrant visas.

“Even as US health care workers experienced severe job losses in the health sector in March and April amid stay-at-home orders and shutdowns, immigrants with health care degrees who are on the sidelines represent a valuable asset during a public health crisis because of their linguistic skills and backgrounds,” the report said.

“These highly educated immigrants offer both language and cultural skills that are not replicated in the current health care labour force,” said report authors Jeanne Batalova, Michael Fix and Sarah Pierce.

Given that these language and cultural skills may allow them to communicate more effectively on sensitive topics such as disease and the movements and associations of a person possibly exposed to the COVID-19, the report says this talent pool could be tapped as contact tracers as states ramp up testing and tracing.

“With the disease spreading particularly fast among Latino and other immigrant and minority communities, broad demand for the kind skills that many underutilised immigrants with health degrees offer should be high not just in tracing networks, but in other emergency and nonemergency settings,” the authors said.

Read the full report here: