Michigan is National Leader in Tackling Brain Waste

National leaders from the New American Economy (NAE) and World Education Services (WES) Global Talent Bridge joined Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s Cabinet Director Mike Zimmer (pictured), Global Detroit, the Michigan Office for New Americans (MONA) and 75 attendees on May 1 to discuss “brain waste”—the unemployment and underemployment of college-educated and professional immigrants and refugees. In many cities it is cliché to encounter the cab-driving immigrant engineer or refugee doctor waiting tables.

But these examples of “brain waste” underscore real hardship for immigrants and refugees, and a real cost to the local economy. Michigan, like the rest of the nation, suffers from a shortage of skilled workers—engineers, doctors, IT professionals, etc.—skills that many immigrants and refugees posses.

Data released in December 2017 was shared at the event documenting that, unlike the rest of the nation, Michigan’s “brain waste” for immigrants was no higher than for U.S.-born college-educated workers. There are several factors that contribute to the relative success of professional immigrants and refugees in Michigan, including high numbers of advanced degrees (54 percent of Michigan’s college-educated immigrants have an advanced degree compared to 36 percent nationally), stronger English skills, high penetration of work-related visas, and, as noted in the research, state and local “efforts not only to attract skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs, but also to reduce their underemployment.”

Global Detroit and MONA have been hard at work on these issues and the desire by national experts to release new data focused on Michigan and to discuss best practices in Detroit is a testament to our success. As I stated at the event, “Set the record straight: Michigan is the national leader in fighting brain waste.”

The Michigan International Talent Solutions (MITS) program run at MONA by Annie Fenton, as well as the nearly 50 licensing and credentialing guides written by the State for foreign-trained and educated professionals, reflect the most ambitious investment and most important contributions that any state government has made on this topic. Add to that the 124 Cultural Ambassador matches that Global Detroit has made for immigrant professionals and international students, as well as the Welcome Mat and other welcoming activities, and the evidence is clear that Michigan is “all-in,” according to Mike Zimmer, on this issue.

But it was nice to hear our boasting backed by national leaders. “Michigan and Detroit are light-years ahead in combating brain waste,” noted WES Global Talent Bridge’s Director of Partnership and Program Development Katherine Gebremedhin. Her affirmations about our leadership were echoed by Paul Feltman, WES Global Talent Bridge’s Director and New American Economy’s Director of State and Local Initiatives Kate Brick who summed up the days underlying purpose, “Our country will only be successful if we welcome immigrants to help us build prosperity.”

By Steve Tobocman, executive director, Global Detroit

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