Resources for Highly Skilled Refugees

Highly skilled refugees are unique from other refugees as they often arrive to the U.S. with higher levels of education, advanced English language ability, or extensive training and experience in a particular occupation. Resettlement sites that see smaller numbers of highly skilled refugees tend to find themselves in unfamiliar territory, without the availability of job upgrade programs or experience in long-term goal setting. Higher is sharing resources that can help sites with limited numbers assist highly skilled refugees in obtaining employment that matches their skill level or, ideally, in their previous field.

Foreign Degree Certification

Job Readiness & Education

  • Higher’s Online Learning Institute is our free online system with courses designed for refugee employment staff and job readiness instructors, many of which refugees could take on their own to reiterate coursework and practice skills needed for the American workplace.
  • Upwardly Global provides career development programming for SIVs, immigrants, and refugees who were professionals in their home countries.
  • WES Global Talent Bridge assists community organizations and public agencies that support skilled immigrants with tools, training and other resources.
  • Utilize volunteers in your community to support job readiness classes, career mentors, in-home tutoring for spouses, access to childcare, transportation orientations, and more.

Job Development

What are some unique approaches you use with highly skilled refugees? Share with us at

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WES Career Pathway Guides

Higher presents a guest post from World Education Services (WES) Global Talent Bridge announcing their new career pathways guides.

Skilled immigrants and refugees can find step-by-step guidance on how to use their international education and professional experience in the United States or Canada in World Education Services (WES) Global Talent Bridge’s new Pathways e-guide series.

What are the Pathways e-guides about?

WES Global Talent Bridge created its new Pathways e-guide series to help skilled immigrants explore career and academic pathways in their professional fields. The guides offer practical information on the different educational pathways in each field, licensing and certification requirements for common field-specific careers, and career options that make the best use of transferable skills.

The e-guides provide sector-specific advice and resources on academic requirements, career options, and, when applicable, licensing and certification requirements. A one-stop source for strategies, support, and additional resources, the Pathways e-guides are helpful at every step of the journey toward professional success for skilled immigrants in the United States or Canada.

What fields do the Pathways e-guides cover?

So far, WES Global Talent Bridge has published Pathways e-guides for the fields of nursing and education. WES Global Talent Bridge plans to publish additional e-guides for internationally trained health care professionals in the coming months. Additional future topics include regulated fields like engineering and architecture, as well as unregulated fields like business, information technology, and the creative arts.

Like Career Pathways in Nursing, the upcoming e-guides will feature:

  • Strategies for achieving career success.
  • Helpful charts highlighting licensing and certification requirements.
  • Interactive worksheets and guides.
  • Success stories spotlighting the real-life professional pathways of skilled-immigrants.
  • Links to helpful resources in each field.

For more information on WES Global Talent Bridge’s Pathways, contact Mia Nacamulli

For additional information on career pathways, checkout Higher’s recertification assistance guides for engineers, accountants, pharmacists, and more. For examples of career pathway programs, go to Higher’s blog.

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WES Pilot Provides Alternative Credential Assessments for Syrian Refugees

Resettled refugees often face several barriers to formal recognition of their credentials, preventing them from reaching their full career potential. This is especially problematic for refugees arriving without official documentation such as a completed transcript, diploma or other proof. A World Education Services (WES) pilot in Canada has tested an “alternative assessment” methodology using available evidence of educational attainment and professional achievements when these official documents cannot be obtained. WES is a non-profit organization that evaluates and advocates for the recognition of international education qualifications.

As Canada has resettled more Syrian refugees, local institutions and employers voiced concern that these refugees, many of whom are highly-educated, would not have access to recognized credential documents for pursuing higher education or regulated professions in the future.

“Because Syria had a highly-literate population and a well-functioning education system before the war, we knew many of these refugees would be highly educated, proficient in English or French and determined to resume professional careers or pursue further study. Recognition of previous education in Syria, therefore, would become a priority for these individuals, since it is critical to this goal,” shared Denise Jillions, Associate Director of WES Global Talent Bridge, during a recent webinar about the pilot project.

WES started exploring the degree of support among academic institutions and regulatory bodies for an alternative assessment model allowing for use of non-verifiable or incomplete documents, in contrast to their standard strict document policy. They decided to move forward in testing a new service delivery model among Syrian refugees in Canada to determine the validity and potential utility of alternative assessments. WES received 337 applications for the pilot program between July 2016 and May 2017, and they were able to prepare Alternative Credential Assessments for applicants who submitted at least one piece of documentary evidence.

Preliminary Findings

78% of refugee participants surveyed after the project indicated that the Alternative Credential Assessment will be useful in taking next steps toward their education and/or career goals. About 20% of those surveyed who already have plans for using the assessment indicated they would like to pursue a new profession, with the majority of respondents reporting they would like to use their assessment to pursue higher education, return to their original profession or find a similar position suited to their level of experience and education.

About 73% of end-users, including academic institutions and employers, reported confidence in the alternative methodology for assessing credentials. Some institutions reported that they are already accepting the assessment for admission to colleges, universities and regulated professions, while other institutions are still reaching a decision on how to use it.

WES hopes to expand this pilot program to the U.S. in the future, and will report their final findings and plans when the project analysis is complete. In the meantime, check out their 2016 report, Providing Pathways for Refugees: Practical Tips for Credential Assessment, which includes six steps for credential assessment for refugees and displaced people.

Written by Carrie Thiele.

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Hospitality Training Programs in Minnesota

Employment in the hospitality field is one of the top three industries for newly arrived refugees in the United States. However, housekeeping can be more than just a refugee’s first job, it can also be a career. The International Institute of Minnesota knows that refugees can grow into a variety of positions in this field with the assistance of their Hospitality Careers Pathway Program (HCPP). The HCPP provides three different courses; Hotel Housekeeping, Supervisor Training and College Readiness in Hospitality. Hotel Housekeeping is a 6 week course focused on training hotel housekeepers on the basics of job. Supervisor Training is a 6 week course that helps people currently working in the industry to move into supervisory positions with a focus on managing employees, data entry and personal development plans. College Readiness in Hospitality is a 16 week course to prepare students for the Hospitality Pathways Program at Normandale Community College. The course accompanies students through a career-focused college hospitality management course, helping students to earn 8 free college credits.

HCPP uses an empowerment-focused model that draws on student experiences, allowing students to shape the classroom leadership curriculum and provide advice to each other about navigating the American workplace.  In addition, all participants are able to practice customer service industry-specific English and soft skills.

In order to register for the Hotel Housekeeping class, students need to be motivated to work in the hospitality industry and read and write in English. Hospitality experience is required for the supervisory or college readiness courses. All courses are free and include a 1-month bus pass to offset transportation costs. Program costs are primarily funded by Women United under the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

A Success Story

Dorcas is an asylee from Liberia who came to the US in 2013. After completing Hotel Housekeeping at IIM, she obtained her first job. Dorcas continued to take Supervisory Training after starting her job and she now works as the Director of Housekeeping at a hotel. She is also enrolled in Hospitality Pathways Program at Normandale Community College, pursuing a certificate in Hotel Operations. Read her entire story here.

For more information regarding the Hospitality Careers Pathway Program, contact Julie Rawe at or Najma Mohamud at


Does your office have a great career pathway program you want to share? If so, please write to us at


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Webinar Reminder!

Don’t forget to attend our webinar tomorrow! If you missed the initial announcement a few weeks ago, here is the description and registration link:

Short to Long Term Economic Integration for Refugee Employment: Using Theory of Change to Implement a Career Advancement Program

July 11, 1:00 PM EST

Supporting clients in obtaining early employment, often referred to as “survival jobs”, is no longer enough. Join Higher, META, and the IRC on July 11th at 1:00 p.m. EST in a discussion of steps you can take to develop new, evidence-based, data-driven programs that meet the longer-term employment goals of your clients:

  • Higher’s Program Manager, Nicole Redford, will discuss the importance of seizing the opportunity to evolve employment programs to address both the short-term and longer-term employment goals of new clients, as well as those who have been here awhile
  • META’s Technical Advisor, Jaime Costigan, will walk through how to use a theory of change to thoughtfully evolve your employment programs
  • IRC’s Technical Advisor for Economic Empowerment Programs, Erica Bouris, will provide an example of a career advancement program with impressive evidence-based outcomes.

To register, click here: 

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Webinars This Week: Refugee Legal Rights & Career Tips for Skilled Immigrants

There are two webinars this week that you or your clients may be interested in. The first webinar is on Wednesday evening, and will share important information designed to help refugees, asylees and SIV recipients understand their rights in the U.S. The second webinar is on Thursday afternoon, and will share essential strategies that skilled immigrants with foreign credentials can use to advance in their careers.

Here is the information for each webinar:


What Does it Mean to be a Refugee in the U.S.? Refugee Legal Rights Discussion Post-Election

Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM EST

Upwardly Global, in collaboration with the International Refugee Assistance Project, is organizing a virtual webinar to educate the refugee, asylee and SIV populations as well as interested community members about refugee rights and their eligibility as U.S. residents. Please join us in the discussion about what it means to be a refugee, asylee and/or SIV; how to protect oneself from discrimination and how to create more welcoming communities for refugees. To register, click here.

Photo: BEWFAA/The Washington Post

10 Essential Tips for Career Success

Thursday, January 19th, 2017, 2:00 p.m. EST

Over the past year, WES Global Talent Bridge in the US and Canada have shared resources and methods on helping skilled immigrants succeed in their journey to continue their careers using credentials from abroad. As we begin the new year, we will revisit webinars and events hosted in 2016 and share key messages as well as resources that skilled immigrants need to consider as they work to integrate professionally in their new country. To register, click here.


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8 Strategies for Working with Skilled Immigrants

skilled immigrantsAfter attending a recent IMPRINT webinar about the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians (WCNP) recently launched Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways Program, I found myself thinking,

 “That’s great.  They have dedicated resources and staff to launch a whole program focused on skilled immigrants. What about all the agencies around the country who don’t necessarily have the capacity or dedicated resources to launch a targeted program?”

When reviewing what I learned in the webinar, I realized that even small organizations with limited resources have the determination to replicate much of what WCNP is doing (at least to some extent).

Consider these observations and WCNP strategies when you’re thinking about developing intentional programming for higher skilled clients:

  1.  Start Simple: When WCNP launched this program, they didn’t “bite off more than they could chew.” Instead of trying to help skilled immigrants from every industry immediately, they decided to first focus on skilled immigrants from the healthcare industry. Now that they have gotten things off the ground, they are expanding program offerings to offer assistance to other immigrants from broader STEM fields.
  2. Screen Carefully and Hold Clients Accountable: WCNP carefully screened clients interested in this program, and required accepted clients to sign a contract committing to certain things. It was not just a wide open door. There was an element of competition, and there was client buy-in.
  3. Be Hopeful and Realistic: WCNP supports client’s long-term goals and lays out a pathway that will help them get there (Individualized Career Action Plan), but they also help clients be realistic about their current situation, in some cases helping them obtain “survival jobs” that will meet their needs in the short-term. In other cases they have hard conversations with clients if their career goals are not realistic or feasible– instead encouraging them toward appropriate alternative careers drawing on their skills.
  4. Consider CohortBased Learning: WCNP’s Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways participants are part of small cohorts (groups of learners) that are interactive and industry focused.
  5. Connect Clients to Mentors: WCNP strives to connect participants to career mentors who can give them inside industry information while also assisting with cultural assimilation.
  6. Offer Industry-Focus and Broad Professional Development: Not only does WCNP’s program give participants the information they need about their particular career, but it also provides them with opportunities to practice soft skills and learn about other professional development topics (e.g. Social Media).
  7. Encourage Clients to Give Back: WCNP’s program encourages participants to support the community of fellow foreign trained professionals, both in terms of supporting those in their cohort as well as being open to future volunteer mentorship opportunities.
  8. Respect the Knowledge and Experience of Participants: One of the values of the WCNP program is that each participant has a wealth of knowledge that can be shared for the good of the group. Participants are not just learners, they are teachers and mentors as well.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the work that we do. Perhaps a few of these strategies will be helpful as you strive to provide quality employment services to highly skilled refugees.

While additional resources are always nice, you don’t need a ton of funding to make a difference in the lives of your higher skilled clients. A bit of intentionality and a few tweaks to your program is all you need!

DWilkinson HeadshotDaniel Wilkinson is a Philadelphia-based job developer with nearly 5 years experience serving refugee communities. He has worked for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey in Trenton, NJ and Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA.

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The Supporting Skilled Immigrants Toolkit

The Supporting Skilled Immigrants Toolkit, developed by WES Global Talent Bridge, presents the various barriers facing skilled immigrants as they seek to integrate into academic and professional settings in the U.S. and identifies key challenges that educators face when working with highly-skilled students in mixed classroom settings. It introduces best practices from the field and a directory of successful programs dedicated to serving the needs of skilled immigrants.

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Free Webinar About Serving Skilled Immigrants

GTBWES Talent Bridge is offering a webinar – Connecting with model programs to Serve Skilled Immigrants – on Tuesday, October 14 at 3pm EST.

It will feature IRC Silver Spring (home to Matthew Fortier, Higher Peer Advisor) as one model of how to assess the needs of highly skilled clients and target services that meet their unique needs.

Click here to go to the registration page.



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03/14 Webinar Explores Alternative Careers for Immigrant Professionals

Doctor Smiling To CameraFor many reasons (e.g. age, expense, other priorities), clients with professional qualifications and experience in their own countries may choose not to pursue recertification in the US.

That doesn’t mean they can’t put their expertise to use and work in their field.

On Tuesday, March 14, you can attend a webinar offered by Imprint that will help you explore some alternatives and resources to identify concrete options in your community.

Also, read about on-line training from Imprint members Upwardly Global and Welcome Initiative that explore career alternatives for doctors and nurses; dentists and pharmacists in a previous Higher blog post.


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