The “American Dream” can be difficult to find. Even for highly skilled immigrants, the promise of financial opportunity and career advancement isn’t guaranteed.
While the United States cherishes and seeks highly skilled immigrant workers, COVID-19 has made it especially challenging for expats to excel in the modern American economy. In fact, the number of visas issued by the State Department fell 90% in 2020, directly affecting many potential immigrant job applicants.
While employment has slowed for the time being, this economic lull actually presents a new opportunity for immigrants to prepare for success during the expected hiring boom in 2021.
3 Career Advancement Tips for Highly Skilled Immigrants:
1. Maximize English Proficiency
Along with world-class accreditations, degrees, and global work experience, English fluency significantly increases your career trajectory.
Whether you are moderately confident with your English or fast approaching fluency, there are several great tools to help you get more secure. For starters, check out some of these great resources:
- Download the top-rated Duolingo app (which is free and easy to use!)
- Listen to VOA Special English News (where the latest news stories are read in clear, slow English in beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels)
- Hire a personal tutor at italki (the world-renowned company that promises fluency in 3 months or less!)
While English fluency is important, it’s not just about being able to speak the language. It’s about assimilating into American life with greater ease and confidence.
2. Adapt to American Social Norms
It may sound like a rather sterile term, but in the United States, “social capital” is as valuable as any other currency.
And what is social capital? In short, it’s the full scope of your human network: The people you live with, work with, and spend time with. There’s an old American saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” That’s social capital!
It’s also the real reason why it helps if you are able speak fluent English since it allows you to grow your network and increase the amount of “people you know”. American industries and workforces are often regarded as social clubs with an occupational focus. So when you interview for jobs, you aren’t merely advertising your particular skill set; you’re often selling yourself.
For all job applicants and workers, personality and social graces carry great significance for career advancement.
So, how can you more easily adapt to American culture? While many immigrants will first look to building a community with people from their home country, it’s more beneficial to seek out social groups and local events that help merge your life with the American community at large.
It can be a time-consuming process, but the benefits will be well worth the effort. By broadening your social horizons, you will quickly adapt to American social norms, learn the rules of interaction, and steadily increase your network. And as you grow your social capital in the community, you can also do so in your career.
3. Pursue American Internships & Certificate Programs
“Brain waste” is a term used to describe highly skilled immigrants who settle for jobs far below their training, experience, and qualifications—a very real phenomenon. This kind of underemployment applies to people like the physician from Venezuela who takes a survival job in merchandise, or the New Delhi engineer who becomes an Uber driver.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 1 in 4 college-educated immigrants are stuck in low-skilled jobs (or unemployed altogether). That’s over 2 million workers.
While there are many causes for this unsettling trend, there is one leading factor: U.S. employers tend to exhibit favoritism for American education, training, and experience. To put it bluntly, many U.S. companies undervalue international work history and unfairly prioritize domestically-trained applicants.
While the U.S. government seeks to enhance opportunities for highly skilled immigrants, there are several effective actions you can take to stay competitive. For starters, seek out American internships, training programs, and certificate programs to enhance your appeal, strengthen your resume, and expand your network.
Or, if you are in the medical field, for example, job shadowing and volunteering can be great ways to acculturate and enhance your professional development in the U.S.
Check out your city and state’s local resources to get started.
For example, the state of Pennsylvania offers a “Welcoming Center” that provides immigrants a variety of leading services, including:
- International Professionals Programs
- Contextualized ESL and skills training seminars
- Business Training Programs (with technical assistance on licenses & regulations)
- The Global Startup Accelerator (for entrepreneurs looking take their business global)
- And much more
In Texas, “The Alliance” provides a similar range of tools that promote immigrant self-sufficiency. These include:
- Employment Services connecting immigrants with dynamic job opportunities
- ESL courses and training
- Vocational training services (including nursing, engineering, and EKG training)
- The Financial Opportunity Center, which provides everything from one-on-one financial coaching to small business financing opportunities
- And much more
While additional internships and certificate programs may feel like you’re taking a step back, they are essential steps to establishing yourself in the American workforce. Use all available resources to strengthen your credibility and appeal in the U.S. job market.
Settling into the United States takes time. As for growing in your career? That takes both patience and commitment.
At uLink, we want to help you focus on the things that matter most — like fulfilling your career potential. That’s why we make it as easy as possible to send money home so you’re able to support the ones you love while you’re making the most of the opportunities here in the U.S.
Plus, after your 1st, 2nd, and 5th transactions, we’ll send you a $10 gift card to use at your favorite retailers. That’s $30 in gift cards after your first five transactions with uLink.
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