New White House report marks important step forward for immigration and skills

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, April 15, 2015

A new report from the federal government marks an important step forward for immigration and skills. The White House Task Force on New Americans yesterday released Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents: A Federal Strategic Action Plan on Immigrant & Refugee Integration

Included in the plan are a number of goals and activities related to adult education and workforce issues, including several that NSC championed in our recommendations to the Task Force earlier this year.

NSC’s recommendations emphasized that:

  • The adult education and workforce systems need significantly more capacity to meet existing and emerging demand.
  • Support for career pathway strategies like bridge programs is vital in ensuring that immigrants can transition effectively from entry-level classes to higher-level skills training.
  • There are a variety of approaches that can be used to make the system more demand-driven, including sector partnerships, integrated education and skills training programs such as I-BEST, and improving adult education programs’ explicit connection to employment.

Our analysis also highlighted numerous opportunities for policymakers to build on the legislative foundation of WIOA to encourage best practices in the provision of services to immigrants. Among our specific recommendations:

  • Encourage states to engage immigrant‑serving organizations as planning partners in the development of WIOA state plans, and consider how best to align WIOA funds with other public investments in training.
  • Affirm and amplify WIOA legislative language on employment-focused ABE/ESL and sector partnerships.
  • Reaffirm that individuals granted Deferred Action are eligible for federally funded workforce services

NSC welcomes this federal affirmation of the importance of immigrant workers to our economy. We are particularly pleased to see the connection made between immigrant integration activities and the upcoming implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Below, we highlight notable elements of the plan, which was developed by representatives from nearly 20 federal agencies, drawing on recommendations from 350 organizations and more than 1,000 members of the public.

It is imperative that this milestone in federal immigrant integration work be followed up with additional steps. National Skills Coalition will be working to support progress in these areas in the months to come. 

  • Provide guidance and technical assistance to encourage the workforce system to increase engagement of immigrant-serving organizations in the WIOA implementation process. These efforts will highlight existing best practices in the workforce and education systems.
  • Issue guidance to the workforce system, known as a Training and Employment Notice (TEN), on promising practices and partnership models, including uses of resources for ESL, accelerated learning for individuals who have previous skills and training, and competency-based training to incorporate existing expertise.
  • Expand employer partnerships through work-based learning approaches, such as Registered Apprenticeships, that can help qualified immigrants improve their career prospects.
  • Provide information and tools to employers, local governments, and others to help them increase access to ESL courses, education services, and other training programs for frontline immigrant workers.
  • Explore ways to connect the Promise Zone Initiative with immigrant integration efforts. Promise Zones are low-income neighborhoods where the federal government is partnering to help local leaders access the resources and expertise they need to create jobs and improve educational opportunities.
  • Work to ensure that newly arrived immigrants receive information on integration resources, including opportunities for English language learning.
  • Facilitate credentialing for New Americans, as part of overall efforts on credentialing. Task Force members will work with the private sector, workforce systems, and credentialing bodies to encourage streamlined credentialing processes for eligible skilled immigrants.
  • Produce a Career Pathways and Credentials Toolkit. This toolkit will provide information for states, localities, and workforce partners on how to develop and expand high-functioning career pathways and credentialing systems and programs.
  • Strengthen immigrants’ connections with American Job Centers, colloquially known as one-stop centers. For example, federal agencies will host roundtables to discuss promising models like the Welcome Back Center Initiative, a national model that helps foreign-trained healthcare professionals obtain licenses to continue their careers in the U.S.
  • Reaffirm that immigrants who are authorized to work in the United States are eligible for workforce services under WIOA.
  • Increase grant opportunities to support innovative training models that assist New Americans. For example, as part of the White House’s Tech Hire initiative, DOL recently announced that it will launch a $100 million grant initiative to support innovative approaches to training for tech and other in-demand fields for individuals with barriers to employment, including individuals with limited English proficiency.
  • Conduct research on the educational attainment, and employment outcomes of young English Learners, including young adults ages 19–21. The research will inform federal investments in educational interventions to serve this population. 

Read the full federal immigrant integration plan, or see additional information on other recommendations submitted to the Task Force and a related upcoming event at the Migration Policy Institute website.

Photo credit: SEIU via Flickr (CC 2.0)