Apprenticeships: Immigrants with Work Authorization

Immigrants comprise approximately one in six workers in the United States. Many states, including California and Missouri, provide avenues for immigrants to earn occupational licenses. These avenues allow states to fill labor shortages in certain occupations and keep skilled in-state workers. However, many immigrants still face barriers to licensure that may prevent them from entering the workforce. Some immigrants may face a barrier understanding unfamiliar technical language in the licensing process. Immigrants also are more likely to face financial barriers that make it more difficult to complete the licensing process, which usually involves several fees.

Furthermore, immigrants can face challenges similar to veterans while applying for licensure as credentials and experience earned outside the domestic U.S. can be difficult to link with education and experience requirements. This leads to gaps in skills or experiences required for licensure; and few ways exist to fill them. But while veterans have the robust SkillBridge program offered by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to help transfer veteran experience, these avenues do not exist to the same extent for immigrants. Programs such as World Education Services’ Global Talent Bridge are working to fill these roles, but additional and expanded efforts are needed.

A 2016 report from an independent state oversight agency in California suggests states could employ similar methods of recognizing veteran experience for foreign accreditation. Other options included adult education in contextualized English, such as the English Language Learners program in Maine. This program focuses on removing language barriers for immigrants by teaching English in the context of career pathways and filling language gaps related to more technical topics. Additionally, the Portland Professional Connections Program matches immigrants and refugees with local employers and help foreign-trained professionals build their network.

Idaho has a program called Global Talent, which is a partnership between Upwardly Global, the Idaho Department of Labor, and the College of Western Idaho to remove employment barriers and provide services for skilled immigrants and refugees working to rebuild their careers. In 2014, Minnesota assembled a Task Force on Foreign-Trained Physicians in order to better integrate immigrant physicians and fill healthcare labor shortages in rural areas. The Task Force made recommendations such as creating a state council and an assessment and certificate of readiness and expanding apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can also work to remove barriers of the licensure process that might be especially challenging for immigrants, as covered in a prior policy brief on the Occupational Licensing website. The Biden Administration recently pushed for policies that promote registered apprenticeship programs, including endorsing the passage of the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 and reinstating the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships. This Committee will focus on building registered apprenticeship programs for Black and brown Americans, women, and immigrants. A study by Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that works to promote economic advancement for all, has shown ways that apprenticeship programs can promote a more diversified workforce by actively engaging underrepresented populations. The study specifically focuses on tailoring apprenticeships for Spanish-speaking English as a Second Language learners.

Apprenticeship earn-while-you-learn models can work to fill gaps in education and experience required for licensure without the burden of additional education. Upon completion of a registered apprenticeship program, apprentices can walk away with a nationally recognized credential that can fulfill licensure requirements. There also is generally more incentive for employers to hire workers that they have worked with as apprentices, with 94% of workers retaining employment after completing a program. Additionally, the average annual salary of former apprentices is approximately $70,000.

Some states are adopting innovative policies that create apprenticeship programs tailored toward immigrants. In 2016, Maryland established a competency-based apprenticeship program that targets immigrants in the healthcare sector. Their model considers prior experience, allows individuals to fill in skills gaps at their own pace, and provides resources such as contextualize English instruction and an online portal with resume building resources.

While many states are working to improve workforce development outcomes for immigrants in their states, immigrants still face many barriers to licensure and issues with foreign accreditation that make it more difficult to find employment. By expanding apprenticeship programs and extending outreach to immigrants, states can work toward retaining skilled immigrants in their state and filling labor shortages in licensed occupations.

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