Community Perspective – City needs to capitalize on immigrants’ talents and skills

A contributed perspectives piece by Scheilla Bayitondere

The United States has been for a long time a free country where everyone hopes to achieve their dreams. The United States has in place a law that granted equal employment opportunities to everyone regardless of their nationality, sex, gender, disability, race. In recent years, many cities of different states of the United States have seen an increase of skilled immigrants. According to the Migration Policy Institute, about half of immigrants who came to the United States between 2011 and 2015 were holding a bachelor’s degree. Harrisonburg is among those cities with a significant increase of skilled immigrants, which can be a great source for the workforce and enhance its economy. Regrettably, those skills are not utilized because there is no system of integration for people with professional skills. Therefore, Harrisonburg should create a system that profits from the talents and skills of immigrants.

Immigrants have unused experiences and work-related skills that can benefit the Harrisonburg community. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 2 million immigrants with advanced degrees find themselves filling jobs unmatched to their qualifications, which doesn’t benefit either their families or the country. The Citizen has reported different stories of doctors, lawyers, engineers with experiences who were not able to go back to their profession. I have a degree in general medicine and surgery, which has been evaluated by World Education Services as a first professional degree in medicine. I also have four years  of work experience, yet I was not able to find any job that could benefit from my skills and experiences.

After realizing that I was not going to be able to use the degree nor the skills from Rwanda, I opted to go back to college in order to earn a US degree that can help me to go back in the career of my passion. The fact that I can’t work in medicine related fields represents a loss of resources. Harrisonburg should identify people with foreign skills and talents and give them a better platform to serve their community.

Many reasons are contributing factors to the lack of benefiting from skills and talents from immigrants. Each country has its culture and its ways of operating. So, immigrants find themselves in a completely new and different system with a new culture without knowing who to turn to. Harrisonburg programs like Church World Service and NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center help with the settling process and cover some aspects of professional integration such as orientation for English learning centers.

However, Harrisonburg needs a special holistic approach system for immigrants’ professional integration. Let us take an example of the medical field. Almost all professions require certification and license to practice, which I believe immigrants could have if they were given an opportunity to do the tests and exams. Unluckily, all the certification tests require U.S. training or studies as eligibility criteria. That seems unfair and a loss of resources for people who already had training and skills, and had a valid degree recognized by a U.S. international credentials evaluation services such as the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) members organization. It is also a loss for the Harrisonburg city, who could benefit from those skills and talents without losing time and resources to train from zero people who are already trained.

Some people doubt the quality of training offered to immigrants in their previous countries and think that they should not qualify to use their previous degrees. However, those assumptions are subjective because most of the time the United States’ education system is the model of education for most of the countries of the world. Most of the books and other training materials are almost the same. For this reason, immigrants should be eligible for certification tests and exams based on their foreign degree, and their skills should be incorporated in the American system for the benefit of the community.

In conclusion, a holistic system of integration of foreign skills and talents is needed for Harrisonburg city to decrease the loss of revenue for the economy and to increase human resources needed for its community.

Scheilla Bayitondere lived in Harrisonburg, moved in Waynesboro 4 months ago, and is a student at Blue Ridge Community College. She works part-time as a certified nurse aide.

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