The NCSL Blog


By Ishanee Chanda

As baby boomers are starting to retire and state demographics begin to shift, state lawmakers are looking into creative and innovative solutions to support economic development.

Two people standing in front of a store.One method states are using: reducing licensing barriers for foreign-trained immigrants in the United States.

Many skilled immigrants come to America with foreign educations and experience in fields such as health care and medicine. Currently, 1 in 6 health care professionals is foreign-born.

State lawmakers are eager to tap into this pool of skilled workers and licensed professionals to fill key these key niches in their labor forces. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 2 million immigrants are under- or unemployed, and that if these immigrants were provided with more opportunities and a streamlined licensing process, $10 billion could be added to the economy in federal, state and local tax payments.

However, immigrants sometimes find it difficult to obtain recognition for their foreign credentials. The main barriers for immigrants toward practicing their professions include a lack of:

  • U.S. work experience.
  • Recognition for foreign work experience.
  • Recognition for foreign credentials.
  • Knowledge about training, skill gaps and costs and English proficiency.

To solve this problem, states can help immigrant professionals obtain higher incomes from better paying jobs by streamlining and clarifying the licensing and credentialing process, resulting in increased spending and tax revenues. Some targeted approaches that states have adopted range from creating programs and task forces to identifying key areas for reform to addressing skill gaps and English language proficiency.

In 2014, Minnesota created a Foreign-Trained Physician Task Force to address the barriers immigrant international medical graduates face in integrating into the Minnesota health care system. Senator Jim Abeler (R), who has been in the Minnesota Legislature for 17 years, has worked to remedy these problems in licensing and credentialing.

“We need doctors, but we have an unfriendly system,” he said at NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States. His legislation assists these international medical graduates and helps place them in rural and undeserved areas.

Governors in Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina have also created welcoming centers for employment, training and education, and career re-entry services for foreign-trained professionals.

California’s Workforce Development Board developed a guide on the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which includes funding opportunities, best practices and partnerships to better serve English language learners and create career pathways for them.

Other models of state innovation include partnering with educational institutions, such as community colleges, that can create programs to help immigrant professionals obtain an American education and initiating partnerships with companies and employers to encourage trained immigrant professionals to re-enter their fields.

Employers can also be encouraged to provide onsite vocational English and help immigrants upgrade their skills. To read more about what states are doing to help immigrant professionals, read our full report here.

Ishanee Chanda is a staff assistant in NCSL's Federal Affairs Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.