The recent population growth in the Buffalo Niagara region has largely been the result of immigrants and refugees. Tapping into the skills this population brings with them will help address our region’s growing workforce development struggles. That is why the Buffalo Niagara Partnership prioritized creating a state professional licensing program for immigrants and refugees as part of our 2018 Advocacy Agenda.
Buffalo Niagara’s immigrant and refugee population represents a significant portion of the working age population in the region. The Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, of which the Partnership is a member, recently supported a study examining the role of immigrants in reviving the Great Lakes region. That study found that immigrants were far more likely to be of prime working age than the U.S. born population. According to the study, in 2015, 70.2 percent of immigrants were in that age group, compared with 51.1 percent of the U.S.-born population. Immigrants drove two-thirds of the growth in the Great Lakes region’s working-age population between 2000 and 2015.
Many working-age immigrants and refugees arrive in New York having already completed extensive education and job training, or with significant work experience abroad. Between 2010 and 2015, more than half of the net growth in the Great Lakes region’s working-age immigrant population came from those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, all too often, immigrants face challenges to fully utilizing these skills, including barriers to licensing. Unable to obtain licensing in New York, many local immigrants and refugees take positions that they are overqualified for or they simply leave the state and move to an area where licensure is more easily accomplished.
This is a problem that is not unique to the Buffalo Niagara region. A number of states have faced a similar issue and have taken steps to reduce the barriers that immigrants face when attempting to obtain professional licenses. California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming all have enacted laws designed to reduce the barriers that immigrants face when trying to obtain a professional license. The breadth of these laws vary from the very board; allowing immigrants to receive any professional license if all other requirements are met, to the very narrow; allowing permits for exchange teachers from foreign countries. However, the result is the same: a reduction of the licensing burden on immigrants which helps to fill labor shortages, allows states to retain skilled workers and increases the tax base from which states generate revenue.
Legislation is not the only solution. Recently in Michigan, the Governor directed agencies to make licensing requirements more transparent and easier to understand. New York has already taken some regulatory steps to reduce barriers as well. In 2016, the New York Board of Regents authorized certain immigrants to obtain a professional license and certain teacher certifications if they have met all other requirements for licensure.
Whether through legislative action or at the direction of the executive, the creation of a New York State professional licensing program for immigrants and refugees will help this population fully utilize their skills and training, and our economy will be the beneficiary.
2018 Advocacy Defined Blog Series Table of Contents:
- Tax Relief
- Employer Mandates
- TAP Funding
- Healthcare Costs
- Prevailing Wage/Scaffold Law
- Professional Licensing for Immigrants
- Pell & Perkins
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