Rep. Katko Proposes Bipartisan Legislation to Eliminate Barriers Preventing Immigrants & Refugees in Central New York From Fully Utilizing Skills, Contributing to the Local Economy

August 18, 2020
Press Release

SYRACUSE, NY— U.S. Rep. John Katko (R, NY-24) today announced the introduction of The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act of 2020, bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the local economy and help ensure immigrant families in Central New York are able to fully utilize their skills. Rep. Katko introduced this measure alongside U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams (D, UT-4).

In 2016, researchers at the Migration Policy Institute found that nearly 2 million immigrants with college degrees in the U.S. were relegated to low-skilled jobs or were unable to find work. This underutilization of skills and work experience, commonly referred to as ‘brain waste,’ has come at a significant cost to the economy and to immigrant families in Central New York. On an annual basis, ‘brain waste’ is estimated to result in more than $10 billion in unrealized tax receipts at the federal, state, and local levels and over $39 billion in unrealized wages for college-educated immigrants across the nation.

Many factors contribute to ‘brain waste,’ including language barriers, limits on the recognition of international degrees and credentials, the accessibility of relicensing processes, and the availability of professional networks and assistance in finding suitable employment. To strengthen the local economy and help immigrant families in Central New York fully utilize their skillset, Rep. Katko’s bipartisan legislation would direct the Department of Labor to conduct an interagency study on factors that impact employment opportunities in the U.S. for work-eligible immigrants and refugees with professional credentials from other countries.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, NY-24 is home to over 42,000 immigrants and refugees.

“Today, I’m proud to announce introduction of the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act.  Central New York is home to a strong and vibrant refugee and immigrant community.  Many New Americans have settled in our region with hopes of a better life for their families. But, far too often, the talent held by many of these individuals goes unnoticed, or is underutilized, because of language barriers and other challenges,” said Rep. Katko.  “Members of our immigrant and refugee communities come from diverse range of professional backgrounds, and can help strengthen our region’s workforce and benefit local businesses.  We must ensure that we uncover the untapped talent in our community. This bill will help identify current challenges and improve steps to eliminate barriers that prevent those who come to the U.S. through our immigration and refugee resettlement programs from reaching their full potential.”

“At least 2 million New Americans with college degrees from their home countries are unable to work in their field or are unemployed due to barriers in licensing, acceptance of their credentials, or prejudice,” said Beth A. Broadway, President & CEO of InterFaith Works of CNY, a refugee resettlement agency located in Syracuse. “These refugees and immigrants come here with the same hopes and aspirations for starting their lives over that many of our ancestors had, and America is better served when we utilize the strengths that each of us has to contribute. InterFaith Works applauds Congressman Katko’s efforts to study this issue through the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act which will put forward solutions that will reduce the barriers to full employment. We have been working with The Hearst Foundation to implement a new program to help skilled refugees get the licenses and credentials they need. Our county and our community will be stronger when we are able to have the engineering and business skills, medical training, teaching and social work expertise that the New Americans bring with them.”

The Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act of 2020 is supported by Upwardly Global, World Education Services, National Immigration Forum, New American Economy, National Skills Coalition, and Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Pars Equality Center, International Rescue Committee, Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, IMPRINT, Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, Global Cleveland, The LIBRE Initiative, International Institute of Buffalo, International Refugee Assistance Project , New York City Employment and Training Coalition, Garra, Utah Valley Refugees, Argentine-American Medical Society, Washington Academy for International Medical Graduates, Church World Service, and Jewish Family & Career Services of Louisville.

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