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How battling 'brain waste' could help close the employment gap

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Posted at 10:44 AM, May 13, 2022

Many highly-skilled foreign workers are taking low-skilled jobs in the U.S.

"I know people who, for example, are architects, and they were doing cleaning here or doctors who are doing that," said Vessela Kouzova, a graphic designer who moved to Ohio from Bulgaria more than 20 years ago.

Immigrants from different parts of the world are enduring what's been described as "brain waste."

“When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, my life and family life was at risk," says Farid, an Afghan refugee. "I left behind my mother. I really miss her a lot, and she is living alone.”

Farid holds a degree in business administration and has more than a decade of experience in accounting. He managed the money for a U.S. government project at a major hydropower dam in Afghanistan.

The accounting job he landed in the U.S. is closer to an entry-level position.

“It’s quite difficult," Farid said. “They offer me a job with very low pay.”

Frank Yang moved to Cleveland from China in 2016 for grad school. He now works in statistics for an insurance company but contends getting a job that fits his skill level is hard. He said he filled out between 50 and 70 job applications.

“I think that is the hardest step to get the first one because you have nothing to showcase you and then you need the employer to do this and that to stay here in the long term," Yang said.

Yang also believes some employers don't want to fill out the paperwork for a work visa.

Kouzova says she filled out more than 200 job applications during her job search.

“There were some interviews that they would want you to record your mission or whatever you aim at your particular job. I just disregard those because I know they were going to discriminate against my accent immediately,” Kouzova said.

Approximately 25% of college-educated immigrants in America can’t find work or are in low-skilled jobs, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). It was founded in 2001 and did the first-ever study on the economic impact of "brain waste."

“Calling a friend and saying, 'Hey, I know that guy and didn’t you say you should meet this person, "Hey, let's have coffee.'" Well, that doesn’t exist if you’re an immigrant or an international newcomer,” said Joe Cimperman, who is a son of Slovenian immigrants.

Cimperman served on Cleveland's city council for a decade. He is now the president of Global Cleveland. The non-profit works to connect foreign workers with jobs that fit their skillsets.

“We have to go get to the point where we realize the more people we have working, the better it is for all of us," Cimperman said.

MPI found that college-educated immigrants working low-skilled jobs miss out on more than $39 billion in wages a year, which means federal, state, and local governments miss out on more than $10 billion in tax money annually.

“In this economy, we need all hands on deck," Cimperman said.

Cimperman would like to see an easier path for workers, like nurses, to get to work instead of having to start over in school because their foreign credentials aren’t recognized in the United States.

"We have to go back to this time in our society where our idea of the American dream was something that people come to from the outside as much as the people who were born here were living," Cimperman said.