Lisa Katz|Crain’s Detroit Blog

Waspada is an immigrant who left Indonesia for political and religious reasons.  As a refugee, he came to the United States with several advanced degrees and international experience as a financial auditor.  After dozens of interviews, he faced challenges with background and credit checks, had a strong foreign accent, and the only job he could find was as a barista at Starbucks.

His story is not unique.  Hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the United States come to the country legally able to work.  Yet many immigrants, who served as doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc., in their home countries, have trouble finding jobs here.  They are forced to find survival work and take on roles as cab drivers, nannies, janitors — positions that, while valuable to society, do not utilize their vast skills and experiences.

Global Detroit points out that Southeast Michigan is home to more than 32,000 underemployed or unemployed, high-skilled immigrants.  These are permanently work-authorized individuals who do not require sponsorships (i.e., they are legal permanent residents).  Many of these workers could perform some of the critical jobs that our employers need, but they have trouble connecting to work opportunities because they lack familiarity with the U.S. employment process, have credentials that may not translate to the U.S. system, cannot articulate how their experiences apply in the U.S. workforce, face linguistic or cultural challenges, and the list goes on.

Fortunately, local talent partners like Global Detroit have connected with a national partner, Upwardly Global, which helps eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees and integrate the population into the professional U.S. workforce. According to a recent information session held in Detroit, Upwardly Global helps foreign workers with high skills but low options for work, reviewing their resumes, practicing interview skills, translating job capabilities into U.S. language, navigating the background process, directly connecting them to employers, and more.

Upwardly Global works with foreign workers who already are legally able to hold a job in the United States and are:

  • highly skilled, with a bachelor degree or higher,
  • experienced (average 5-7 years),
  • bilingual and multilingual, and
  • highly motivated.

Workers who land a job through the program experience one-year retention rates of 85 percent to 90 percent.  The types of skills they have addressed are diverse, with frequent movement from entry-level, lower-skilled work to high skilled positions, for example:

  • House cleaner — engineer
  • Taxi driver — operations manager
  • Barista — auditor
  • Nanny — social worker
  • Cashier — physician
  • Tour guide — coastal engineer

Although it is entirely legal to hire permanent resident workers, many employers shy away because they do not understand the process of working with this talent or they are unfamiliar with how to overcome the various aforementioned barriers to hire.  Upwardly Global can serve as a resource, both for these immigrant workers but also for employers in Southeast Michigan who are looking for highly skilled, experienced talent who can work now.  They have a resume database and job board and offer employment services to help connect employers with talent based locally, regionally, or nationally.  Some may be concerned that hiring foreign talent could undermine jobs for U.S. workers, but research from the Partnership for the American Economy finds that:

  • Immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields boost employment for U.S. Natives: 100 immigrants with advanced STEM fields help yield 86 jobs for U.S. natives
  • An additional 100 immigrants with advanced degrees, regardless of field, yield 44 jobs among U.S. natives

Given a host of reasons, employers may be weary of hiring a foreign worker with a great resume and skillset, but there are resources to help overcome these concerns.  The end result could be a real boon for the company:  Upwardly Global worked with Waspada, and, today, according to a news story from CNN, he is an auditor at JP Morgan Chase (Upwardly global reports he is an executive).

Interested employers or jobseekers can visit Upwardly Global: or contact Tadd Wamester at 212-219-8828

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