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Documented Immigrants Face Barriers To Practicing Health

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A large number of highly educated, documented immigrants who were trained as doctors, nurses and other professionals in their home nations are employed in low-level jobs because they cannot obtain credentials to practice in the U.S., according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, the Los Angeles Times reports. The report calls the situation a "brain waste" of immigrant professionals who could address shortages of health care and other skilled workers.

According to the Times, a lack of English language proficiency and nonrecognition of foreign professional credentials are the two biggest barriers for immigrants hoping to practice in the U.S. In addition, some requirements for practicing medicine in the U.S. differ from those of other nations, Julie Hughes-Lederer, interim director of the Los Angeles County Regional Health Occupations Resource Center, said.

According to the report, there are more than 1.3 million skilled immigrants in the U.S. About 25%, or 317,000, of them live in California, which has "shortages of health professionals who can speak the language and understand the cultures of the state's increasingly diverse population," according to the Times. Hispanics make up 35.5% of California's population, while only 5.2% of physicians and 5.7% of registered nurses in the state are Hispanic, according to the California-based Welcome Back Initiative. The Welcome Back Initiative, primarily funded by the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation, helps immigrant health professionals overcome barriers to practicing in the state.

The report urged several actions to be taken to address the problem, including:

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* Boosting language and workforce training;

* Coordinating credential criteria on a national level;

* Allowing three-year transitional visas for skilled immigrants; and

* Expanding programs, such as the Welcome Back Initiative, that help documented immigrants obtain necessary credentials to work in their field of training.

Hughes-Lederer said, "A lot of this is just technical obstacles they have to get through," adding, "We don't have to question their capability to learn and progress. You know they have the gray matter" (Watanabe, Los Angeles Times , 11/11).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.