FOREIGN-BORN INTELLIGENCE: Maryland fights 'brain waste' with immigrant integration programs

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Oct 23 20:39:02 UTC 2008

FOREIGN-BORN INTELLIGENCE: Maryland fights 'brain waste' with
immigrant integration programs

By LINDSEY McPHERSON • Capital News Service • October 22, 2008

WASHINGTON — Maryland is one of the few states taking measures to
fight the "brain waste" resulting from the more than 1.3 million
college-educated immigrants unemployed or working unskilled jobs,
according to a Migration Policy Institute report released Wednesday.
"What we have here may be in some ways the worst of all policy
worlds," said Michael Fix, institute senior vice president and report
co-author. "What we have is brain waste in the receiving country, the
United States, and brain drain in the sending country." But that
educated work force is not wasted in Maryland, said Tom Perez,
secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"At a national level, immigrants tend to be less educated than their
native-born colleagues," he said. "In Maryland, the opposite is true
-- 43 percent of immigrants working in Maryland have a college degree
or above, compared with 36 percent of their native-born colleagues."
Maryland is better off than most states because it has a worker
shortage in several sectors, including health care, construction and
hospitality, Perez said. The state will even receive 60,000 more jobs
by 2015 as the No. 1 beneficiary of the Base Realignment and Closure
process, which consolidates the nation's military installations.

"I believe that information is power, and Maryland is in an enviable
position," Perez said. "We have this economic downturn that is
obviously the talk of the nation. In Maryland, we're well positioned
to weather the storm better than most states because we have a very
robust economy even in economic downturn."

Despite recent state budget cuts, Maryland is funding a program to
move foreign-born, foreign-trained health care professionals to jobs
in their field.

The program started by the Latino Health Initiative in Montgomery
County, which made a "modest investment," Perez said, of about $5,000
per student to train 25 custodians, cab drivers, hotel workers, etc.,
to use the education they received in their home countries in a U.S.

"When you are demand-driven and supply-savvy, and when you've broken
down and really drilled down on what your supply side is, you will
learn that right in your back yard there are remarkably talented
people who are grossly underutilizing their talents," Perez said.

Eleven of the nurses in the program work at Holy Cross Hospital in
Silver Spring.

The nurses provide a tremendous benefit to the hospital, said Wendy
Friar, vice president of community health.

"These nurses are lovely," she said. "They're very well-trained, and
they bring in a bicultural element that's a must. ... It's not about
language, but it's about understanding different cultures, belief
systems and customs, and these nurses bring it to the bedside and also
teach other staff as well."

Eight of the nurses have already passed their licensing exam, which
gives them the same degree as a U.S. registered nurse, Friar said. The
other three are still working with the program to pass the exam.

"There is no doubt in our mind they will all pass," Friar said. "It
depends on their level of English proficiency, their reading
comprehension, things like that, and that takes time."

Other immigrant assistance efforts, such as English learning programs,
are feeling the effects of the budget deficit.

The state passed a bill last year to merge the delivery of adult
education and work-force development under the Department of Labor,
Licensing and Regulation. Perez said 60 percent of these services are
for English language learners.

"I would love to be able to invest more dollars for adult education,"
he said. "We haven't been able to close the waiting lists. We've made
a pretty good dent, but there's still Marylanders who want to learn
English so that they can get a better job."

But budget woes won't stop Maryland's efforts to help its immigrant
population, Perez said.

"Our vision is that immigrants are our lifeblood, they have always
been our lifeblood, and they will always be our lifeblood," he said,
"and they enrich our communities in so many ways, shapes and forms."

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