He drives a taxi to make ends meet, but back in Nigeria he was an accountant. That’s what my driver in Washington, D.C. told me recently. And his story isn’t an anomaly. Many African immigrants leave their country well educated with professional careers only to come to the U.S. and have low paying jobs.
According to a new study done by Migration Policy Institute, those who were doctors, lawyers, accountants or professors in their country, are now taxi drivers, parking lot attendants and cashiers. Barely making ends meet. Just like some of us who were born in this country.
“We’ve all heard about brain drain,” says Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst with the MPI. “This is brain waste.”
MPI states that 1 in 5 college-educated immigrants from all countries is unemployed or underemployed.
Among recently arrived African, foreign-educated immigrants, the underemployment rate is 39 percent, compared with 20 percent of the college-educated U.S. workers and 25 percent of all foreign-educated immigrants, according to the MPI.
The reasons—from a lack of professional networks to cultural barriers to misguided advice to racial discrimination—are complex, demographers say. Many African immigrants educated abroad have trouble getting licensed in the U.S.—and licensing requirements vary widely from state to state and from profession to profession.
A law degree from a West African university is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. Then again, an engineer will have a much easier time than, say, a doctor who graduated from medical school in Senegal. That doctor faces hurdles getting licensed and may have to start all over again—and then wait years to get placed in a postgraduate residency-training program, Gross says.
“If you’re a nurse or a doctor, there are so many federal and state requirements that you have to fill. It’s very, very complicated and time-consuming,” Gross says.
It’s a shame those seeking a better life in the states, end up worse off than they were in their own country.