When making the journey across the Atlantic, many African immigrants have no idea that they are leaving behind more than just a familiar land.
Those who have reputations as successful doctors and engineers, those who have worked tirelessly to earn some of the highest accolades universities have to offer and those who have spent years climbing their respective career ladders are often leaving those accomplishments behind as well.
Once they cross the boarder into America, many are forced to navigate a disheartening transition from economic success to a financial downfall that leaves them in the unforgiving grasps of poverty.
Highly educated and successful immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa are generally underemployed in America, despite a few states initiating new practices and policies to help curve this troubling trend.
This is a story that Nasser Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, West Africa, is all too familiar with.
Diallo fled his home after the military sprayed protesters with a wave of bullets. The former political journalist was covering the demonstration when the tragedy struck, according to The Root.
When word got out that the military government was looking for him, he knew he had to leave his home behind. With no transcripts or other documentation to serve as proof of his extensive professional background in journalism, his career failed to take off in America.
“I had to make a very, very tough choice to go back to school and restart from scratch,” Diallo, who also held a law degree back in Guinea, told The Root. “I didn’t have a choice. I was going nowhere. By the time I’m going to graduate, I’ll be maybe 50.”
Unfortunately, Diallo’s story is only becoming more and more common as a part of a system that some experts say has resulted in widespread “brain waste.”
“We’ve all heart about brain drain,” Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told The Root. “This is brain waste.”
MPI reports that 1 in every 5 college-educated immigrants from another country is actually unemployed or underemployed in America. This means doctors, lawyers, psychologists, journalists, educators, esteemed authors, nurses and other professionals who have a lot to offer their communities and the economy at large, are instead being forced into unemployment lines or being asked to fulfill duties that don’t even utilize their degrees or years of experience in a particular field.
In addition to the cultural barriers and obstacles of racial discrimination, experts also point to the varying federal and state requirements for different professions in the U.S. as a culprit behind the underemployment of these immigrants.
“If you’re a nurse or a doctor, there are so many federal and state requirements that you have to fill,” Jeff Gross, the director of the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, told The Root. “It’s very, very complicated and time-consuming.”
In professions of all types, however, there has always been a greater value placed on American degrees when compared to other countries across the globe; thus presenting yet another major hurdle in the way of highly educated immigrants.
Despite the severity of such a problem, little has been done to address the issue on a federal level, although states like Michigan have been slightly more proactive by teaming up with Upwardly Global.
Upwardly Global is described by The Root as an “employment advocacy agency for immigrants, to craft clear-cut licensing guides for 20 professions, so immigrants know exactly how to proceed.”
The state has also passed a bill that helps experienced barbers from other countries launch their businesses in America sooner without having to fulfill the same amount of instruction hours as someone without professional experience under their belt.
Another bill, passed in February, was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to prohibit anyone from denying someone a professional license because of their immigration status.